Chesterton Tribune

Sexting and bullying make world dangerous place for your teen

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By KEVIN NEVERS

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 indiscretion.

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.

Bullying

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.

Sexting

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 observed.

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 overnight.

The Internet

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.

Some tips:

•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 folks.

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 mentalhealthpc@verizon.net

 

 

Posted 11/17/2010