At Northeast summit in Pittsfield, Boys & Girls Club offers kids a digital defense playbook

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PITTSFIELD — Keely Baker of the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires was surprised to learn that many children are adding strangers on social media.

Dan Joslyn, program director for the city youth center, learned that they can spend between 10 and 20 minutes taking one selfie for Instagram.

"They're dealing with a lot more pressures than I had to deal with," Joslyn said. "I think social media has put a lot of pressure on kids to post things that make their life look a certain way online."

This weekend, 174 11- to 13-year-olds from Boys & Girls Clubs across the Northeast gathered at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires for a Torch Club summit. At the two-day event, the kids attended leadership seminars, played sports and learned how to manage stress.

Baker, who hosted a Saturday seminar on the "dos and don'ts" of social media, said she walked away feeling like many of the kids will heed her advice about how to better use the apps. In addition to teaching them to turn off their smartphones' location settings so people don't always know where they are, she also urged them to make sure they're not posting anything online that may jeopardize their future.

Sophia, 13, said she joined the Boys & Girls Club in Shelton, Conn., 6 years ago.

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"I needed a safe place to go," she said on Saturday before the groups gathered for dinner.

At the yearly summits, she likes to meet kids from other states and learn about teamwork, she said.

When Boys & Girls Club members get involved with the Torch Club, they learn leadership skills through community service and volunteering, said Alexander Smith, an adviser from the Boys & Girls Club Lower Naugatuck Valley chapter.

Even as just a member of the club, they develop lifelong relationships.

"It's the most fun any kid and any staff can have," Baker said.

"It's like a family to them," Smith said of the Boys & Girls Club.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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