CANTON — Nearly 100 people attended a discussion at Hugh C. Williams High School Thursday night, and countless tears were shed as a panel of parents who have lost a child spoke about the dangers posed by internet challenges and other cyber threats.
The discussion, called “Xander’s Story: An Evening of Conversation,” was hosted by the St. Lawrence County Youth Bureau, and was named for Xander C. Worthley, a seventh grader at J.M. McKenney Middle School who died in March as a result of the “choking challenge.”
“He was a happy boy, he loved school and the outdoors, and always had a big smile,” said his mother, Sondra Worthley, who was part of the panel along with her husband Shane Worthley.
She emphasized to the crowd of parents to “be a nosy parent,” because you never know what dangerous things your kids could be exposed to.
“Don’t ever feel like it can’t be your child,” she said.
Other panelists included Rosemarie Maneri, who played a motherly role in the life of Shylynn M. Dixon, a junior at Heuvelton Central School who died by suicide in March 2021 after being extorted online, as well as Mary C. Rodee and Darren E. Basford, the parents of Riley K. Basford, a sophomore at Potsdam High School who also died by suicide in March 2021 under similar circumstances.
“You don’t want to be in this position, so make sure you talk to your kids,” Mr. Basford said.
Ms. Maneri also insisted that parents talk to their children about the potential dangers of any cyber platform.
During the discussion, Youth Bureau Director Alexa J. Backus presented slides on the “choking challenge.”
She defined it as a dangerous activity done mainly by teens and pre-teens in which purposeful strangulation occurs to experience a brief euphoric high.
She cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistic that the game can escalate from suffocation to death in less than three minutes.
Juan Adames, an outreach coordinator for the Department of Homeland Security, presented on the dangers of online activity to children.
“A predator can be anyone,” he said.
He added that he wouldn’t be stationed in the north country if these dangers weren’t present here.
“I’m so appreciative to see everyone here as a community,” said Joseph D. McDonough, J.M. McKenney Middle School principal.
“We’re here to build awareness, but we’re also here to support these families.”
Ms. Backus said there will likely be a follow-up event to educate parents on how to monitor their kids’ screen time.