Parents who say “my kid would never” are burying their head in the sand, according to Det. Richard Wistocki of the Naperville Police Department High Technology Crimes Unit.
His hard-hitting statement was part of a presentation he gave to parents Thursday at Scullen Middle School in Naperville to provide them with the tools they’ll need to track their children’s social media movements and learn how to deal with potential illegal activity.
Like many high schools and middle schools across the country, Indian Prairie’s Scullen Middle School is not immune to problems of cyber-bullying and sextortion. During the talk, School Resource Officer Juan Leon said he’s been dealing with several cases involving students sending texts and pictures of a sexual nature to one another.
Wistocki said children don’t understand the ripple effect of sending out pictures because a collection of photos can amount to child pornography, a serious crime.
“We don’t want to make children sex offenders. It would be on their record for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Scullen Principal Mark Truckenbrod told the roughly 50 parents in attendances that adults need to catch up with the latest technology.
“We are here tonight because of the activity that’s out there is progressing socially online,” he said.
While parents might not understand some of the technology, like a photo safe that requires a code to open hidden photo galleries on a phone, Truckenbrod said his students know and have them on their phones.
No privacy for kids
Wistocki stressed that parents need to get rid of the notion that phones, tablets or computers are personal or that viewing information on such pieces of technology is an invasion of a child’s privacy.
“There is no such thing as privacy for children,” he said.
Wistocki said parents need to know who their children are communicating with on the Internet or their cell phones and what applications they’re using.
He said social media culture is centered on sharing, whether it is information or pictures.
“If I send you a picture, you owe me one,” he said. “What we’re dealing with are 13- and 14-year-old boys who are getting pictures of your girls.”
The problem is that the photos can get passed along to others who use the images as leverage. Cyber-bullying occurs when a child or teen is embarrassed, humiliated, harassed, tormented or targeted by another person using the Internet or other form of communication, like a cell phone.
In cases of cyber-bulling at schools in Naperville, Wistocki said police try to get both parties to the table to resolve the situation and learn from the experience.
Beyond classmates, pictures sometimes wind up in the hands of sexual predators who troll sites looking for prey.
Popular online or phone games, such as Words With Friends, Draw Something, Call of Duty and Minecraft, are havens for predators to befriend children, Wistocki said. He said parents need to tell their children never to leave a game to have a private conversation through messaging or video chat.
“What happens in sextortion is they think they’re talking to someone their age,” Wistocki said.
It starts with sharing photos, then the recipient demands a video. Wistocki said the adolescent often is told that if she doesn’t give a video, the person will send the photo to everyone in their contact list. He said the young girl starts to feel trapped and thinks that one video will make the person go away, but in reality that just feeds demand for more videos.
Wistocki calls for parents to institute a “golden ticket” policy, whereby children know they will not be punished if they come forward about one bad decision.
“Odds are that the person is doing it to someone else, and your child will not be sorry for her life,” he said.
Parents must have access
Prevention is easy, as long as parents are willing to monitor their children’s social media behavior.
It starts by having full access to phones, computers, iPads or tablets.
Wistocki said programs such as SpectorSoft and Shield Genie allow parents to monitor computer activity. He also recommends My Mobile Watchdog for tracking activity on Android phones.
Because iPhones don’t allow tracking, he said parents must be vigilant to grab their children’s phones and look at the conversations and applications and be willing to remove applications such as kik and ask.fm which are inappropriate for children because of the often highly sexual content.