?Speaking Up for Those Who Won?t Speak for Themselves,? was the featured presentation during the annual Parent Infor?mation Night on Friday for USD 410 parents, middle and high school students.
Kevin Horner, a ventriloquist and illusionist for 15 years, who works with the Kansas Bullying Prevention Program in Shawnee, talked to more than 100 people about bullying and specifically cyberbullying.
No stranger to bullying
Horner said he knows firsthand what it?s like to be bullied.
?When I was 9 years old,? he said, ?I was chased into the street by three boys bullying me and was hit by a car going 45 mph.?
It took him 18 months to learn to walk again, he said.
?I want you to know upfront that this (presentation) is information overload,? he said, ?like drinking from a fire hose.?
Stressing the dangers of bullying and the Internet, Horner said children need instruction.
?You don?t just give keys to the car and ask them to learn to drive,? he said.
The same is true with the Internet, he added, because there are rules for young people to proceed safely.
Online chat rooms
Horner talked about a 13-year-old girl who was a member of her school band and liked going to an online Christian chat room where she met another teenage boy named David.
The problem, he said, is that David was not a teenager, but a 47-year-old predator, who had used a photo of his nephew to ?trick? the young girl into trusting him.
The girl?s father was a police officer in a small town, Horner said, but he had no way of knowing his daughter would make the mistake of sharing personal information with a predator.
?It was a fatal mistake,? Horner said, ?because this online predator abducted the young girl and killed her and then himself.?
Predators use information obtained from children to gain trust and bond with them, he said.
?Unless you know someone in person, you don?t really know who they are on the Internet,? he said.
With the introduction of the Worldwide Web, there are no small communities.
Something as simple as losing a cellular telephone could be risky.
In that scenario, Horner said that someone might offer to help find the phone by offering to let the person use their phone.
?That is all it takes and that person would have your number,? he said.
Internet use among teens
According to statistics presented by Horner, 94 percent of teens age 12 through 17 years old use the Internet. Of that number, 84 percent of teens have social networking profiles and 46 percent have one-on-one access to online profile information.
In addition, he said, 84 percent have cell phones and are texting. Of those, 43 percent of teens are victims of cyberbullying.
?Parents, that is almost half (of our teens),? he said. ?Sexting among teens is on the increase too, and pedophiles and child exploiters have direct access to children online, in chat rooms, and through blogs and legally-restricted pornography for adults, which is easily accessed by children online.?
Predators have used e-mail, instant messages, bulletin boards and other avenues to gain a young person?s confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting.
Horner said this sometimes leads to the child traveling to meet the person he or she is chatting with or the person traveling to meet the child.
Sometimes the other party is an adult whose intent is to have sex with the child.
Few children report this type of behavior to an adult, parent, law enforcement officer, service provider or other authority, Horner said.
?It is important for parents to communicate with their children about real life safety rules,? he said. ?These online predators are business professionals, police officers, elected officials, teachers, religious leaders, someone?s neighbor?people you would never suspect.?
Why kids are susceptible
?Children make ideal victims because they are naturally curious,? Horner said. ?They sometimes have a desire to rebel against parents and seek attention and affection.?
Quoting statistics from the Rochester Institute of Techno?logy?s 2008 study, Horner said that 42 percent of middle school students communicated with at least one stranger online within the past year.
The same study also noted that 14 percent of high school students agreed to meet a stranger.
Predators online could surprise the majority of parents and adults, he said.
Horner talked about a pastor?s daughter who on a Friday night sent a photo of herself nude to her boyfriend.
?By Saturday,? he said, ?everybody in the school had seen the picture, and by Sunday, after the pastor had given (his sermon), the church board fired him. By Monday, the family moved out of town.?
The point, he said, was that consequences of online pornography don?t just affect the person, it can affect the entire family.
?Think before posting, there are consequences,? he said.
Cyberbullying has become a difficult problem to deal with, Horner said.
Technology now allows for bullying at any time and any place.
?It can happen in several different ways,? he said, ?through e-mail, or instant messaging sent directly to a child,? he said.
The consequences of cyberbullying can range from hurt feelings to suicide.
Some tips he offered regarding cyberbullying included preserving the evidence to make a case, soliciting assistance from the service provider or if the identity of the bully is known, to contact the parents, but that is a judgment call.
?One of the things we know about bullying,? he said, ?is it is a learned behavior that could be from a parent, brother, sister or other relative.?
Horner suggested a few ways to stay one step ahead of children.
One thing is how to know the acronyms children use when texting or instant messaging. Sites that define them include netling.com; noslang.com and acronym-finder.com.
?Our children don?t need another friend,? he said. ?It?s our job to keep the communication lines open and keep the relationship lines open.?
For more information about cyberbullying or other cybercrimes, Horner encourages parents to visit the Kansas Bullying Prevention Program.
Prior to the program, principal Max Heinrichs said the school does have printed calendars, but patrons can set up an e-mail and get automatics updates of events.