Predators on the Internet

At our last PTO meeting, Detective de la Fuente of the Millburn Police Department spoke about what he has learned and experienced during his last eleven years on the Millburn Police Force, and especially in his six years assigned to the Juvenile Division. In this capacity, Detective Ed is our school district’s partner in dealing with possible legal and criminal issues. In his dialogue with parents, he talked about how the anonymity of the internet can embolden both predators and pedophiles alike, winning over the confidence of youngsters who give away personal information about themselves.

Detective Ed spoke about websites that invite anyone to open an account and to post pictures and information in a kind of bulletin board for others to view personal pictures and obtain information. It is a virtual meeting place. Many Millburn students have postings, and parents would be surprised by what they would see and read. Detective Ed advised parents to take a look for themselves and to monitor the websites their children are accessing. Our superintendent of schools has also communicated with the secondary school parents about his concerns for the safety and propriety of our students’ actions. 

I am also disturbed by another of Detective Ed’s comments, and this one has to do with the amount of time students are spending at their computers instant messaging and emailing. He surveyed students and discovered that many pupils spend 2-3 hours daily, while some spend 5 or more. As he said, “That’s not a life!”

What this says to me is that students get more attention from their online friends – and strangers – than they do from anyone else. Sometimes the instant messaging between students develops into accusations of bullying or harassment. These situations unfold outside of school, and when parents report them to us we recommend that they report them to the police. However, as a school we understand that the conflicts follow students into school and we must intervene in order to maintain a peaceful environment.

I know from my experience that some students stay up late into the night at their computers, and they can easily succumb to the requests for personal data and photos, sometimes of an inappropriate nature. While I think all children are vulnerable, it is because middle school students are by nature in an “identity crisis” that these online liaisons pose such risk. It is much easier to be bold and daring when you are not facing a person; it is equally easy to be gullible at 12 years of age when the other anonymous person gains your trust even if the communicator is not who you think he or she is and has less than honorable intentions.

Some youngsters spend too much time typing messages on the screen or surfing the internet. I may seem a bit old-fashioned but I believe they should be outside, if possible, or at least participating in some form of recreation, a hobby or reading, or spending time enjoying the companionship of the people who comprise their families and friends. It is through the experience of living in the world and negotiating relationships with other people that we cultivate an understanding of human interaction and develop social skills.

Technology has introduced many advancements in the way we communicate, access information, and apply tools to create what we need. With this wonderful transformation come the dangers for students who lack the judgment or sophistication or self-esteem needed to respond to possible criminals who would harm them. Computers are a part of our lives and we must regulate the amount of time children use them, talk to them about the dangers of sharing personal information, not allow electronic devices in their bedrooms, and monitor what they are doing for their own good.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: