Cyber bullying: Youth and the problems with the Internet
by Carolyn Kaberline
The statistics are startling: Approximately 77 million youth ages 10 to 17 were on the Internet as of June 2008 according to the United States Department of Justice. Of these, one in three received unwanted exposure to sexually explicit pictures while one in eleven were threatened or harassed. One in seven also received sexual solicitations with one in 25 receiving more aggressive solicitations through regular mail, phone, in person or through requests for offline contact—all because of their internet usage.
With those statistics in mind, Perry-Lecompton Middle School in conjunction with the PLMS Parent Teachers Organization presented a program on Internet safety for parents and their youth late last month.
“During a PTO meeting, we thought it might be a good idea to schedule an educational presentation for our parents on the dangers of social web pages, the Internet and texting,” said Josh Woodward, PLMS principal. “We plan to continue working with our students as well. We want to be aggressive in educating both our community and our students.”
Woodward noted that as an administrator, he had seen some issues relating to inappropriate texting and Facebook comments, mostly related to bullying issues.
Kresten Spurling, a PLHS graduate and a member of the Lawrence Police Department, and Clay McHardie, Jefferson County school resource officer, spoke to parents and students in attendance about the increased threat to students using the internet and also listed some methods to combat the dangers.
Spurling said that as part of his job working with middle schools, he wanted to get the word out on “what’s out there. There are pictures of kids drinking, smoking bongs, showing gang symbols.” He said some of the names that kids use on the Internet such as “Party Girl” tell a lot about them and attract the wrong kind of “friends.”
“Internet predators lure kids by telling them what they want to hear,” Spurling said. “They go where the victims are and learn the language and culture. They pretend to share hobbies and ideas with potential victims, and will eventually want to meet them in person.”
Because of this, Spurling said that it’s important that students tell their parents of any requests for meetings and never to meet anyone they do not personally know. If they are not sure, they should take their parents with them.
Spurling told of one case where a parent received a call from their daughter who had been abducted as she went to meet someone she’d met on the Internet. “They found she’d been communicating with a 40-year-old guy in western Kansas.” Luckily, the police managed to get the necessary information from her computer to find her.
Spurling said that if a child is taken, kidnapped or abducted, it’s important that police have somewhere to start looking. Because of this, he suggested that young people should “share your account names and passwords with your parents.”
While most students don’t like the idea of sharing this information with adults, Spurling stressed that having this information could be a matter of life and death. “If we as police need to investigate, and have to go to a judge to get a search warrant, it will take at least two or three hours. In Jefferson County with only two judges, it could take seven or eight hours.”
Spurling suggested that parents have their child write down their account names for each e-mail address and social web pages along with their passwords, then have the child put the information in an envelope.
“You can tape it, super glue it, whatever, so it will be available if it’s needed,” Spurling said, adding that this envelope can be placed somewhere that both the parents and child can find it.
Spurling underscored the importance of this by noting that while Facebook, one of the most popular social network sites, says it is only for those who are 13 and over, nobody really checks. In addition, the site has kicked off thousands of registered sex offenders in the past.
“We’re now putting technology into the hands of 10- to 15-year-olds that even NASA didn’t have 30 years ago,” Spurling said, pointing to Facebook, Twitter, AOL IM,YouTube, Neo Pets, Xanga and so on. “Not a week goes by that I don’t deal with threatening text messages or bullying.”
He continued to say that today’s social networking sites are fueled by the desire for money through banner ads and pop-ups. But although most sites are used by adults and teenagers for finding friends, they are also used by “predators looking for victims, police officers looking for criminals, serial killers looking for new friends, and so on. Kids put so much information out there and very little is needed for predators to find victims.”
Spurling added that one of the best ways to protect kids is to put the computer in a visible area. But even then if their kids receive harassing or threatening messages, parents should help them use the “block” or “ban” feature.
“If you’ve found that a cyber bully has set up a website that is defaming or mocking your child, contact the ISP and if necessary get law enforcement involved to get that website removed,” Spurling said. He also noted that there are usually two sides to any act. “Ask what your kid wrote—that can help solve the mystery. Make sure your children don’t respond. Keep a record so you have proof. Call in law enforcement.”
Jefferson County school resource officer Clay McHardie voiced many of the same concerns that Spurling did, and added that today’s youth believe they have to have a cell phone to stay connected through texting and taking photos. He cautioned that they should always be aware of where photos they take end up—someone’s website, YouTube, a teacher, a coach or police.
“Many youth post inappropriate pictures because of peer pressure, revenge after a break-up, blackmail, a joke, or just because they want attention,” McHardie said. He cited numerous examples of cases now in court involving pornography sent through cell phones. He discussed the legal and social impact of sending pornographic images over cell phones as well as the internet.
Both he and Spurling pointed to several Internet truths for students:
Don’t assume anything you send or post will remain private.
There’s no changing your mind—nothing ever truly goes away in cyberspace.
Don’t give in to pressure that makes you uncomfortable.
Consider the recipient’s reaction.
“Most teens are impulsive,” McHardie said. “They carry a phone with a camera and nearly half believe their social life would end or be worse without one.” He added that messages and photos on cell phones can be recovered even if they are deleted. “What goes on your cell phone stays there and everywhere.”
He explained that every time a message is sent it’s stored on the phone company’s computer server. And although the cell phone is here to stay, “Don’t abuse it. Don’t let it cost you your life or someone else’s. It’s the fastest way to spread gossip. The results will follow you around the rest of your life.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children can be found at www.ncmec.org.
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