What do school superintendents in Porter County believe to be the greatest
threat to youth?
Porter County Sheriff Dave Lain put that question to them earlier this year.
The consensus response: Internet perils, prescription drug abuse, and
It was with those threats specifically in mind that Lain, in conjunction
with Porter-Starke Services Inc., presented a seminar on Wednesday at Ivy
Tech Community College in Valparaiso entitled “Protecting Kids and Teens.”
And if a theme emerged from the seminar it would have to be this one: youth
put themselves or others at risk because they are entirely too ignorant of
the hazards of postmodern culture and too trusting of others, while their
parents—many of them—are entirely too sanguine about their children’s
More: by far the greatest defense today is an open, honest, candid line of
communication between kids and their folks.
Lain opened the seminar by noting that programs on Internet safety offered
by the PCSP in the past to local schools have tended not to be well
attended. “Maybe parents think they’ve got a good handle on what their kids
are doing,” he suggested.
Maybe they do. Maybe.
How many parents, however, are aware that one of seven kids aged 10 to 17
have been approached sexually while on line? That 34 percent of kids have
been exposed to sexual images on the Internet? And that 23 percent have had
contact with strangers?
Cpl. Jeremy Chavez of the PCSP put these numbers on the table, with the
admonition that children who surf the Internet must be taught to protect
their name, identification, and reputation.
Lain, for his part, spoke of a sting operation run in 2006 by the PCSP and
the U.S. Secret Service in which 14 men were arrested when they traveled to
Porter County—some of them from hours away—to have contact with people whom
they thought were teens. “It you don’t think it’s happening here, you’re
mistaken,” Lain said. “They walk among us. That’s what’s so frightening.
Your children are in danger every day of being attacked in your own home.”
An PCSP officer, going on line with a child’s profile during an Internet
safety program, got a hit from someone in cyberspace within two minutes of
logging on, Lain remarked. He added that he doesn’t mind in the least saying
that the PCSP will be running another sting operation with the feds in the
near future. “Because it’s just so easy to trap a predator. It’s like
shooting fish in a barrel.”
•Parents can create their own Facebook or MySpace accounts, make their own
profiles, and that way check on what their kids are posting to their
•Kids need to know that what they post to the Internet cannot be deleted,
cannot be erased, cannot be removed, ever. “Once it’s out there, you can’t
take it back,” Chavez said.
•Kids need to think about their future. Their rants on blogs, their photos,
can all come back someday to haunt them when they’re looking for a job.
•Kids need to learn not to post identifying or personal information, like
addresses, telephone numbers, their ages, even their names.
•Parents should locate all computers in the household in open areas where
they can be monitored.
•Parents should install filtering programs. Some programs—www.kidswatch.com—set
time limits, track activities, sound predator alerts, and print reports.
Here’s the good news: use of illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin is
dropping among the youth of Porter County.
Here’s the bad news: the use of prescription medications is rising
One in four kids who take prescribed medications has been approached by
others looking to buy their prescription, Chavez said. One in five kids has
reported the abuse of prescription medications: pain-killers, tranquilizers,
barbiturates, stimulants. And there is more abuse among teenagers of
prescription medication than of any other drug but marijuana.
There are two chief reasons for the increasing prevalence of that kind of
abuse. For one thing, Chavez said, every household’s medicine cabinet
contains some kind of prescription medication. And if the kid’s own house
doesn’t, then his grandmother’s house or his uncle’s will.
For another thing, kids have this bizarre idea that, because a medication is
prescribed by a physician and obtained at a pharmacy, it’s a lot safer than
a drug bought in a back alley. “It’s a prescription, it’s prescribed by a
doctor, why do I have to be concerned?” is how Chavez put it. “Besides, it’s
cool, everybody’s doing it.”
Chavez recommended a frank discussion with your children. Be specific
about your concerns. Tell your child why you’re uneasy about his or her
behavior. Don’t make excuses for your child, be firm but loving, and be
prepared to hear a lot of denial. Act now.
And always, monitor your child’s activities.
An incident of bullying occurs every seven minutes, Chavez said. But an
adult intervenes in only 4 percent of those cases, a peer in only 11
We all have our memories of bullies, many of us of being bullied, yet it’s
strange how some tend to think of it simply as a rite of passage, Chavez
observed. A rite of passage which keeps 160,000 kids at home every day in
the country because they fear being bullied. A rite of passage which has
prompted at least a handful of documented suicides by kids who just couldn’t
bear living any longer being bullied.
Bullying, Chavez said, is a learned behavior which must be unlearned, a
result of too little supervision by parents, of too often being rewarded for
throwing obnoxious tantrums, or else of harsh punishment and negative
The difficulty: only a cooperative effort by schools, kids, and parents are
likely to stop bullying. Schools need to create a healthy environment and
studies have shown, Chavez said, that the single most important person for
doing so is the principal. “Staff will follow a properly motivated
One specific thing which schools can do is establish an anonymous reporting
system—a complaint box, so to speak—into which victims can drop a bully’s
name. Teachers and staff, so alerted, can then make a particular effort to
monitor the accused bully.
But parents and kids have their own role to play, said Erin Woike of The
Caring Place. “One of the best things parents can do is encourage their kids
to stand up for the target. Bystanders are the biggest group and the kids
who witness the bullying must decide whether they’re going to stand up for
the victim, let it happen and watch, or join in themselves. In a high
percentage of cases, when a bystander stands up for the target, the bullying
stops. If a bully is making fun of someone and nobody laughs, the bully will
“We need kids and parents to learn that just standing by and letting
bullying happen is no longer acceptable,” Lain said. “We don’t accept it
from adults. Why would we accept it from younger people?”
For the Kids
“If you feel yourself exposed or threatened, you’ve got to understand that
your mom and dad are on your side, they’ve got your back, they’ll get the
expert help you need,” Lain said. “Sometimes it’s lonely being a kid. You
feel it’s you and everybody else. But there are people out there you can
trust and who’ll help you through your problem.”