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Eisenhower Sexting Scandal: Will Parents Hear the Wakeup Call?

Cyber expert says some children are "literally raising themselves" online with no parental guidance.

As life starts to slowly return to normal for students and parents at Eisenhower Middle School following the , police, school administrators and cyber experts all seem to agree on one thing. The incident at Eisenhower was neither unique nor isolated.

So what’s the takeaway? And what steps can parents take to better protect their children from their own rash, sometimes self-destructive impulses?

Wyckoff School Superintendent Richard Kuder told Patch in the coming days members of the police department would be speaking with students en masse about the danger of sexting and using better judgement with social media. 

“I think the schools do a very good job of educating students about the perils of being online and the potential consequences of their actions and inappropriately using the medium of cell phones or being online,” Kuder said. “Statistically, we know that over 20 percent of students nationwide that have access to cell phones unfortunately use them for this purpose. So this is not a Wyckoff problem or an Eisenhower problem. It's an issue nationwide that, unfortunately, has happened in our middle school.”

Kuder said he hoped the incident would lead to a teaching opportunity for parents to talk to their children about exhibiting personal responsibility. “We as parents aren’t always as involved with talking to our children about these kinds of matters. But parents are ultimately responsible for the behavior of their minor children. There are controls parents can exert on some of these phones that they aren’t even aware of.”

One woman who is well aware of those parental controls is Jill Brown, CEO of ItsMyLocker.com, an online network where tweens can socialize safely. Brown also speaks throughout the country to students, teachers and administrators on the growing epidemic of cyber bullying and sexting.

“We work with schools, police departments, youth groups and churches. We work with kids and adults about keeping our kids safe. One of the big things is we show them what’s out there and we let them know what’s going on with kids, because a lot of times they really don’t understand that the sexting is extremely common. It happens all the time. It’s really our version of spin the bottle," Brown said. "It’s natural that kids are feeling their hormones raging and they’re starting to get interested in each other’s bodies. But they have access to this technology and unfortunately that’s how many of them express it."

As part of her discussion Brown has frank talks students explaining the real-life consequences if they are convicted of possessing or distributing child pornography, the same charges Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox said any student now in possession of those sexting images of the 13-year-old Eisenhower student would be charged with.

“I let them know they could become a registered sex offender for life by making one bad decision if they're charged with distributing child pornography,” she said.  “I break down what that means. How they can’t go to a playground when they have their own children or Great Adventure or the beach because they can’t be around children. You can literally see the light bulb going off. And personally I talk about how it feels to have something that’s supposed to be private seen by a lot of people that it wasn’t meant to be seen by.”

You might think Brown’s services would start at the middle school level. But she has a range of discussions that extend to elementary school children just being introduced to the world of texting, to college-age students who might have inappropriate images on their Facebook pages as they enter the job market. 

Brown, the mother of three children ages 7, 11 and 13, said despite the best efforts of schools and organizations such as her own, the number one safeguard for a child using social media starts in the home.

“We spend so much time parenting our children on the basics, but what’s happening online parents are not involved. They’re not on their kids Facebook pages. They’re not checking their cell phones every day. So they don’t know what’s happening," she said. "It’s literally a world where kids are raising themselves. As parents our job is to protect our children.  And we can’t protect them if we don’t know what’s going on and what they’re doing.”

Mary Rossi May 24, 2011 at 08:59 PM
As disturbing as this incident is, I am pleased that none of the students were expelled from school. In this age of zero tolerance we too often forget that these are children we are dealing with - they are going to make mistakes, especially in this age of techno-madness. What is more disturbing to me is how a private school in Wyckoff expelled an eigth grader for having a fight with another student. The boy had been in the school for ten years without incident and his family has been in the school for twenty years. What ever happened to "boys will be boys", common sense, and fairness? What really irks me is how the parents of the other eight graders in the class didn't rally round this family and at least demand to be heard. It could have been any one of their kids who was subjected to the whims of this principal who obviously doesn't understand adolescent male behavior. It's truly a shame and a disgrace that this devoted family was treated so unjustly. Mary Rossi
Tom Rich June 12, 2011 at 02:07 AM
Sgt Thomas Rich, created Generation Text and this presentation back in 2008. Sgt Rich now operates under www.alwaysconnected.org. Having recently been featured on Good Morning America and The Nancy Grace Show, Sgt Rich continues to provide cyber bullying seminars all over the tri-state area. His assemblies cover texting, sexting, Facebook and Formspring issues tying all of it into cyber bullying. Dont be fooled by the imitators, bring in a reliable source who can provide solutions, not just look to make money off of your school district. Visit www.alwaysconnected.org and make a difference in your community today !!
Steve Hegele January 31, 2012 at 12:31 AM
A free service for every parent www.stevenhegele.com The website Allows you to know when and how your child is using"Facebook and makes it easier than ever for you to stay "in the loop". With the free service,you will be able to quickly understand what your child and his or her "friends" are sharing online through status updates and within in direct messages. Also Offers answers to questions like: How many online friends did your child make today? What is your son posting online? Who is talking to them at night or during school? What is going on with all those text messages?

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