Updated: June 23, 2014 12:15PM
The worst thing a parent can do when a child says he or she is getting bullied is chuckle or tell the child it’s no big deal. Parents should not judge the situation by the amount of stress a child seems to be dealing with but instead by how long he or she has been bullied.
That’s the advice that Alsip Police Chief Chris Radz gave Thursday to parents of Homer Community School District 33C students, calling it the “pile-on effect.” With the Internet, bullying today goes on for 24 hours, and sexting — the practice of sending sexually explicit text messages, and sextortion, the subsequent blackmail — also are prevalent in grade schools as well as high schools, he said. That’s why parents need to take it very seriously immediately when a child complains.
Radz said his department takes a complaint of a computer-related crime every day. He said teen suicide rates, especially among 12- to-14-year-olds, are rapidly increasing, and girls are twice as likely to bully as boys, although boys are more likely to bully in groups.
One in seven children receives a sexual solicitation online, and 1 in 25 receives an aggressive sexual solicitation, Radz said. This happens on cellphones, apps, computers and even video games.
Radz said the first thing a parent can do is limit access to the Internet. Children should not be able to use computers and video games in private places, and when a child types “POS,” that’s code for “parent over shoulder.” Radz said computers should be in places that force kids to constantly have to type “POS” if they’re engaging in suspicious behavior.
Keeping open dialogue with kids also is critical, he said. He said he asks his daughters every day “How are things at school?” and “How are things on the computer?”
When a child admits to a bullying situation, a parent’s first response should be to listen and not overreact. The parent should say “thank you for trusting me with this” and put a comforting hand on the child’s shoulder, he said. Then the parent should tell the child they will find solutions together that are comfortable for the child.
Parents should set rules that include no discussions with adults the parents don’t know.
“Teach your children to avoid chat rooms and never go private with someone,” Radz said.
Red flags include significant increases in online time, quickly closing instant messages, and increased use of sexual slang. Kids also will create new screen names to hide an online relationship.
Radz recommended visiting www.acronymfinder.com for help with understanding the new lingo.
Radz offered more rules that parents should teach children. First, always solve problems in person, not online, and don’t retaliate. Second, Internet photos and messages can and will be copied by everyone. Never share a password — not even with a best friend — or other personal information, including name, birth date, school or sex. And announcing a vacation is like sending a memo to burglars, he said.
Parents need to know what they’re up against with online predators, Radz said. Parents have rules, while predators have no limits and are experts in convincing children that parents are wrong. Also, unplug web cameras or cover them with tape when not in use, he said.
“I can sit in my home and activate your webcam whether your computer is on or not,” he said.
Teenagers and predators alike are tech-savvy. They know how to use spyware and other technology even if parents don’t, Radz said.