Worried about your kids? You ought to be.
Fully 39 percent of teens and 59 percent of young adults
report having sent sexually explicit messages over their cell phones.
All too many teens, moreover—while tech-savvy enough to post
photos and blogs to the Internet—are still naive enough not actually to
grasp that their postings will survive forever in cyberspace, cannot be
deleted, are permanent and perhaps career-killing artifacts of their
But technology isn’t the only thing parents should be
concerned about. Try this: every day 160,000 children around the country
miss school because of bullying, while earlier this fall two teen boys in
Indiana—one in Greensburg, the other in Hamilton County—killed themselves
within weeks of each other to escape bullying at school.
For Cpl. Jeremy Chavez of the Porter County Sheriff’s
Police—and the school resource officer for Porter Township Schools—the world
is a dangerous place for kids, and at a informational meeting Tuesday night
at Morgan Township High School he gave parents some tips on how to protect
their children from its perils.
Chavez opened his presentation with a segment on bullying.
There’s an “unfortunate perception,” he began, even among some parents
themselves, that bullying is a fact of life, a part of growing up, something
kids need to get used to.
Never mind whether kids should be able to get used to
bullying, Chavez said. Some simply can’t, and children as young as 11 have
taken their own lives because “they just don’t know how to deal with it.”
And bullying is as prevalent in schools as it ever was,
Chavez noted: 56 percent of students have personally witnessed it, 71
percent report incidences of bullying at their schools, and one of every
seven kids is either a bully or a bully’s victim.
More: bullying begins in elementary school and declines in
high school, but it peaks in middle school, with 75 percent of middle-school
or junior-high principals reporting it to be a serious problem.
Bullying can take any number of forms, Chavez said: outright
physical aggression, verbal aggression, and the increasingly popular
cyber-bulling, in which threats and taunts are posted to kids’ webpages.
Bullies tend not to be born, Chavez remarked. They’re made,
typically by their own parents: moms and dads who give their kids too little
supervision, who routinely teach their kids that obnoxious tantrums will be
rewarded, or who model aggression, dish out harsh physical punishment, or
offer their kids constant negative feedback.
Both school and victims need to step up, Chavez emphasized:
•School staff can’t be in all places at all times and bullies
naturally pick their fields of operation with that in mind. Victims must be
empowered to report bullying to authorities, and the authorities in turn
must provide bullies’ targets with protection and must initiate timely
investigations of the reports.
•Once reported, bullying becomes the school’s problem and an
absolute zero-tolerance policy must not only be implemented but enforced,
with “harsh consequences” meted out to bullies.
•Bullying is a collective problem, Chavez said, and a
collective solution is the only effective one. Students who are not
themselves victims must be involved in that solution, if a healthier social
climate is to be created.
The sending of sexually explicit messages by cell phone has
become commonplace among some teens, Chavez reported.
Guess what? Teens who do send such messages can be charged
with distribution of child pornography, he said, while those who receive
them can be charged with possession of child pornography. Although the
Porter County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has no such cases currently
pending, Chavez said, any person, even a teen, convicted of either charge is
likely to spend a good part of his or her life—or the rest of his or her
life—registering as a sex offender.
“This is obviously being treated very seriously,” Chavez
Parents should treat it just as seriously:
•Have the difficult conversation with your child. “Even if
you don’t believe your teen could do this, you need to allow for the
possibility that you’re wrong,” Chavez said.
•Institute random checks of your child’s cell phone. Forbid
your child from ever clearing the history. “It will upset your child but you
need to be doing it,” Chavez urged.
•Be prepared to confiscate your child’s cell phone—“the worst
possible punishment for a kid”—or otherwise invest in a stripped-down model
phone without texting and photo capabilities.
•Most important, take the time to get to know your child.
Establish open lines of communication. Express your fears honestly.
•Make rules about where and when your child can text: not
during meals, in school, at night.
•Make kids plug in their cell phones in a common room
Too many teens think nothing at all about posting their
names, addresses, phone numbers on their MySpace or Facebook pages.
And it’s not just a question anymore of your child’s personal
information falling into the hands of a scammer. There are sexual predators
out there, trolling, always trolling, Chavez said. Within the last couple of
years, the Porter County Sheriff’s Police undertook a sting operation in
which officers posed as kids on line. Fourteen—14—men fell afoul of the
sting and were charged with child solicitation.
•Begin by familiarizing yourself with the on-line lingo: KPC
for “Keeping Parents Clueless”; MOS for “Mom Over Shoulder”; P911 for
“Parent Alert”; TDTM for “Talk Dirty To Me”; GNOC for “Get Naked on Cam.”
•Create your own profile and post a friend request to your
child’s webpage. If that request is denied, confiscate the computer or
cancel the service.
•Ask for your child’s password. If the child refuses to give
it up, confiscate the computer or cancel the service.
•Install filtering and monitoring software and use it.
•Place your child’s computer in a space in the house where it
can be easily and freely monitored.
•Talk to your kids about Internet safety. “Once you post your
image on line, you can’t take it back. Everyone can see it. Friends, family,
strangers. Think before you post.”
•Remind your kids about the sexual predators. They’re
insidious and their everywhere.
•And report any illegal activity immediately to your local
law enforcement agency.
Mental Health America
of Porter County
Chavez’s presentation was sponsored by Mental Health America
of Porter County (MHA), which offers a variety of mental health resources to
For more information, visit CyberBully411.org, iKeepSafe.org,
NetSmartz.org, WiredSafety.org, StaySafeOnline.org
For a list of texting acronyms and jargon, call MHA at (219)
462-6267 or e-mail at