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.”