By Gary Lloyd
CHALKVILLE — Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Mike Yarbrough sometimes prays to forget, to block the videos, to omit the images.
As a lieutenant in the sheriff’s office’s Special Investigations Unit, Yarbrough sees the evidence that puts away sex offenders.
He talked about his job, and how parents can prevent their children from online predators, at a parent focus group at Chalkville Elementary School on Tuesday. He said problems with cyber bullying begin at early ages. Children can be mean, he said.
“It’s not a high school problem,” Yarbrough said. “It is not a middle school problem.”
Yarbrough said it’s easier to bully people online, where they can be “anyone,” as opposed to in person. Children also have more access to online mediums — cell phones, gaming systems, iPads, computers — than in years past.
“Playgrounds now come to the kids,” he said.
Yarbrough encouraged parents to be vigilant of their children’s mobile apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Yik Yak, Whisper and more. He said parents should go through each “friend” their child has on social media and delete the ones the kids don’t really know. He said the same should be done for video games played online.
He said society today teaches kids that the more friends they have, the better. He said kids see it as a “status symbol.”
“What does that teach our kids?” Yarbrough said. “People don’t spend enough time with kids these days. It’s sad.”
Yarbrough said that since most parents are paying for their kids’ iPhones, there is a password necessary for apps to be installed on the phones. Parents should control what apps are downloaded to their child’s phone, he said.
“Their isn’t an app on their phone that you shouldn’t have the password to,” he said. “Period.”
One parent at the meeting agreed with Yarbrough, saying that parents have to teach their children to make good character choices when it comes to using apps.
“If you turn kids loose with the keys to the car and they’re not ready, they’re going to crash,” the parent said.
Chalkville Elementary School Interventionist Amy Brasher also spoke at the focus group.
“We do need to stay proactive and know what’s going on around us,” she said.
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Randy Christian said parents can go to www.jeffcosheriff.net and click “NetSmartz Workshop” on the homepage. This link has information for parents, educators, law enforcement, teenagers and kids for safely navigating apps, social networks, cell phones, the Internet, gaming systems and more.
“Technology and the Internet is an incredible tool, but as we have learned it can also be a dangerous place for our young people, and we all need to be mindful of that and ensure they are aware of the pitfalls that are out there in cyber world and how to avoid them,” Christian said. “A little education, proven safety practices and setting of boundaries will go a long, long way in keeping our young people safe. I cannot express how important this is.”
Yarbrough said that parents should talk to their kids, just general talk about how their day was, what they did in school. This should start at an early age, so if and when something is wrong, parents will know.
“If something bad happens to your child, they want to tell you,” he said. “You just have to ask.”
Yarbrough said parents should be “very careful” with who they trust with their kids, both online and in person.
“If you’re not talking to your kids, some other adult is,” he said. “I promise you that. And it isn’t good.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.