“All of you are responsible for your children,” Naperville Police Detective Rich Wistocki told about 100 people in the Naperville City Council Chambers Wednesday night.
“You are responsible for their physical lives and their online lives as well,” he said.
Wistocki spoke at the 12th annual Keeping Kids Safe Forum, designed to educate residents of Naperville about the dangers facing children in the digital age.
The Exchange Club of Naperville, the DuPage Child Abuse Prevention Center, Naperville Community Unit School District 203, and Indian Prairie School District 204 sponsored the forum.
Cyber-bullying, online predators and fake personas are prominent among the dangers facing Naperville’s 50,000 Naperville children in the modern social environment.
Wistocki, 23-year veteran of the force, travels all over the United States educating parents on ways to keep their kids safe. He said someone in the audience would seek his help soon.
“Within 30 days, one of you is going to call me,” he said.
To illustrate the seriousness of the danger, Wistocki noted that one nearby high school had seen eight suicides in the years 2008 to 2011, most of which were the result of cyber-bullying.
Wistocki listed some of the most common forms of online activity used in cyber-bullying, including fake names, setting up fake social networks and using other people’s pictures without their permission.
Wistocki said that that while online predators remain a problem, cyber-bullying had become the number one threat to today’s children.
He warned that many of the companies involved are less than helpful when it comes to dealing with online bullying and other types of inappropriate behavior.
“Do not press, “report to Facebook,” Wistocki warned, “Facebook will delete the account.”
Instead, he demonstrated how to hover over certain areas to find the offenders online addresses, which can then be reported to the police.
Wistocki also advised against believing that monitoring children’s activities is an invasion of privacy.
“Your children own nothing,” he said. “You allow them to have it (a computer).”
True Care representative David Barker demonstrated how his company’s software helped parents monitor their children’s online activity.
“One out of every two kids is cyber-bullied,” Barker said.
True Care’s service allows parents to be able to link to a child’s accounts.
“You can see the full context of a post,” Barker said.
“If your child friends someone outside their network, we will send you an automatic message.”
Wistocki said that skepticism was the key to monitoring children’s online activity.
“Everyone online is a liar,” he said.
He listed as red flags not knowing the first and last names of someone contacting your children, along with where they go to school, their addresses and phone numbers.
Wistocki warned that parents should let their children know that electronic messages sent containing harassing or lewd content is a legal offense, and that he arrests people, even minors, on a regular basis.
He said that parents need to be tough to keep their kids safe these days. That goes for the real world as well as the cyber world, he said.
For intstance, he noted that a 2004 Illinois law stiffened the penalties for those who provide a place for parties where underage drinking takes place.
“Your are liable for what happens to them when they leave your house,” he said.
Underage drinking parties take place in Naperville all the time, he said.
“It happens so often in this community,” he said. “because parents want to be their kid’s friends.”
Sherry Weinstein founded the Keeping Kids Safe Program. She said the point it to bring together representatives of the Naperville Police Department and the Illinois Crime Unit to combat the growing threat to children in the online era.
“Parents need to be involved,” Weinstein said. “The hardest part is that kids know more about technology than their parents do.”
Parents in the audience appreciated the knowledge given out Wednesday night.
“It’s just the awareness of the things that can happen online,” remarked Christine Drechsler on the value of the program.
Another mother, who declined to be named because her middle school child was the victim of cyber-bullying, said the evening was more of a refresher of what she already knew.
“But I like to keep things up to date,” she said.