Parents ask Alsip Police Chief Chris Radz questions after his presentation on cyberbullying. | Erin Gallagher~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 23, 2014 12:15PM
Parents heard chilling tales about kids in their early teens committing suicide after cyberbullying crises.
Some gasped as a teen described how she developed an online relationship with a man in his 50s, with whom she eventually ran away. Her voice cracked as she revealed how she missed him even after he was imprisoned.
Alsip Police Chief Chris Radz told parents — loudly and clearly — that the Internet age is making children victims in ways no one ever dreamed of. It’s no longer a matter of if it will happen but when, he said.
The two-hour presentation on cyberbullying, sexting, sextortion and online pedophiles was given recently at Hadley Middle School in Homer Glen for parents of students in Homer School District 33C.
“I have news for you: The pedophiles aren’t hanging out at the parks anymore; they can sit in the comfort of their own homes to shop,” Radz said. “This stuff on the Internet is probably the worst thing I’ve seen in 27 years in law enforcement.”
Radz presented a long list of ways both children and adults easily and unknowingly could become victims. He cited cyberbullying, which can continue 24 hours a day.
Radz said he started speaking about cyberbullying because being misquoted by the media prompted an eruption of online negative chatter that left him shaken. At the time, he said, he was a 40-year-old police officer with well-established coping skills. He challenged the parents to consider the impact of similar criticism or bullying on a child without such skills.
“It is every bit of a nuclear-level attack on your feelings and your reputation,” Radz said.
Suicide rates are ratcheting up, especially among 12- to 14-year-olds, he said, largely due to cyberbullying.
Sexting, the practice of sending text messages containing sexual messages and photographs, is happening at every school in every district, Radz said. School officials and Will County sheriff’s police in April began investigating incidents of sexting involving sixth-grade students at Hadley Middle School.
“This is happening in every school across the United States,” Radz said. “Your kids aren’t telling you. It’s the dirty little secret.”
Peer pressure for girls to take photos of themselves nude does not go away, and the fact that kids seemingly always have cellphones with them allows ample opportunity, he said.
Cyber abuse also is more prevalent because the absence of face-to-face contact makes people, especially children, less inhibited about sharing secrets. Parents should not assume that because they have “good kids” that they wouldn’t take such photos, because being on the Internet breaks down barriers, Radz said.
“Relationships have a new dynamic — it’s this,” Radz said, pointing to his cellphone.
About 40 parents attended the presentation.
“We are trying to be as proactive as possible,” Hadley Principal Kristen Schoreder said, adding, “it takes a partnership” between those at home and school.
Some parents left feeling stunned.
“It was very enlightening,” parent Nick Andretich said. “I didn’t realize that stuff was out there, and I work in (information technology).”
Radz also talked about how pedophiles can track innocent children because of the GPS settings in smartphone cameras through which the locations at which pictures were taken sometimes can be traced. Also, spyware that takes about 15 seconds to install on a phone can allow a boy to eavesdrop on and even stalk a girlfriend, and just about every high school boy knows how to install it, Radz said.
Predators also are sending pornographic photos to children playing online video games, he said.