WAREHAM – A nationally acclaimed “student culture” speaker made a special visit Wednesday to Wareham Middle School to share his expertise in anti-bullying and social media concerns with Grade 7 and Grade 8 students.
Under sponsorship of the Wareham Middle & High School Parents-Teachers Association and the Scott Monteiro Jr. Foundation, Jerry Ackerman of McCordsville, Ind., lectured for approximately one hour on the evils of bullying and the unending menaces of Internet surfing. In a thoroughly entertaining fashion – using music and interaction to engage students – he drove home the major points of combating bullying tactics and employing discretion during online sessions.
“You make choices in life that can affect you for years to come,” Ackerman said in summary. “Strive to make good choices to help people, not hurt them.”
A former teacher and cleric, Ackerman has been speaking to elementary, junior high and senior high school students and others in communities throughout the United States for the past 13 years. His appearance in Wareham was aligned with the middle school’s observation of International Peace Day on Wednesday.
According to his website (www.jerryackerman.net), Ackerman specifically aspires to provide guidance and encouragement to youngsters who are contemplating suicide, residing in broken homes and either observers or victims of domestic violence. “His passion is to connect with students to let them realize they have potential pitfalls … (and) challenges, but … incredible opportunity and potential.”
Ackerman emphasized dual messages Wednesday in Wareham – don’t be a bully and be careful when online. He launched his presentation with a subtle lesson on leadership by encouraging all present in the school’s auditorium to join him in a silly rendition of “The Lawn Mower,” a parody of contemporary dancing.
As he anticipated, only a minor percentage of students participated in the dance, providing Ackerman with an appropriate way to stress its true intent.
“If you are not willing to do this dance, would you have the courage and willingness to lead?” he asked rhetorically. “Doing nothing when someone else is being bullied is validation for the person who is doing the bullying.”
Ackerman was adamant in stating that bullying has no middle ground and that bystanders do not contribute to resolution of crises.
“Either you encourage bullies or you help those who are being bullied,” he said. “There is no middle ground in bullying.”
Ackerman then transitioned to cyberbullying, a fairly recent but too common pastime in the nation today. While advocating that students not engage in the practice, he also underlined the potential pitfalls of spending too much time on line.
“It is a fact that people of ages 11 through 18 years typically spend more time nowadays in front of a computer or cellphone screen than they do sleeping,” Ackerman said. “That is half their waking hours every day.
“What you do online never disappears; it’s there for everyone to see forever.”
Ackerman reserved attention for social media sites – including Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and others – and the inherent dangers they present to users. “Friending” people online without knowing their identity or intents and getting “emotionally attached” to unknown individuals are especially hazardous, he said.
“Social media is dangerous,” Ackerman said. “Everything you post, share, link and click on stays forever. What you do and the way you treat people online is catalogued online forever.”
Ackerman said employers and secondary schools frequently check social media sites for information on applicants and now place heavy decision-making emphasis on information discovered online. “I met a high school senior recently who said she was on her ’11th college of choice,’” he said. “Her first 10 choices denied her admission based on what they found on her Facebook page and other sites.”
Ackerman also said he experimented a few years ago with creating a fictional person online – Missy Adams – who claimed to be a graduate of a real high school in this country. “In two months, I got 500 hits on the site from people claiming to know Missy and ‘friending’ her,” he said.
“Think about that – Missy Adams doesn’t even have a pulse and she got 500 hits on Facebook.”
The father of four children – from a toddler to high school students – Ackerman said he sets iron-clad rules for his children when they go online.
“I tell them not to connect with people they haven’t met; don’t give out personal information of any type; and use the ‘Grandma Rule’ – only post things online that your grandmother would approve of.”
Ackerman concluded his program with another appeal for prudence.
“You are at the point in your lives when you can make choices,” he said. “Make good choices because now you are also responsible for the choices you make.”