"There are many, many parents who let their high school kids drive a car," Mentor Police Chief Daniel Llewellyn said to parents Thursday night in Memorial Middle School auditorium.
"You wouldn't give them the keys and tell them, 'Have a good time. Drink if you want. Speed if you want.' You'd never in a million years do that," Llewellyn said. "Why would you hand them a cell phone or computer and not give them any rules?"
Llewellyn was joined by representatives from Mentor Schools and Lake County Juvenile Judge Karen Lawson for a program called "Cyberbullying, Sexting, Texting and More: Confronting Issues in an Electronic Age."
They discussed the new sorts of trouble that kids can get into with new technology, and how they – as schools, police or the court, respectively – can help.
Bullying and inappropriate sexual activity are not new problems for teens. However, computers and cell phones are giving them new ways to indulge in old vices. For example, a kid can harass someone after they have left school using Facebook, or teens can trade inappropriate photos of themselves via cell phone.
Mentor High School Joe Spiccia said schools cannot deal with every problem that these new technologies create.
"We're limited in our authority and in what we can do," he said.
Spiccia said if something happens outside of school and it does not directly affect school activity, there's not much they can do about it. However, if something happens on school grounds or it affects school activity, they will address it.
For example, Spiccia said they do not have the time or resources to monitor students' Facebook pages; but, if something is brought to their attention, they can investigate it.
Similarly, Llewellyn said parents need to be responsible for monitoring their children's phone and computer use.
"If you get your kid a cell phone, tell them, 'I'm going to look at your phone from time to time. I'm not going to tell you when I'm going to check, either. This isn't a breach of trust. It's the rules,'" he said.
"It's your phone. They have it. It's your computer. It's your home. Take control of it."
Llewellyn added that parents can check their phone bill to see when texts are getting sent, and if texts are sent at inappropriate times – like late at night – parents should ask their child about it.
Mentor Police Capt. Jeffrey Reese recommended a pair of apps, My Mobile Spy and Mobile Watchdog, that can monitor a child's phone activity.
Reese offered some statistics to show how pervasive behaviors like cyberbullying and sexting have become. He said 30 percent of children are involved in moderate to frequent bullying, 39 percent have sent sexually explicit texts and 20 percent have sent someone a suggestive photo of themselves.
Lawson warned that some of this behavior could lead to serious criminal charges for kids. There is no law for bullying, she said. Instead, it's called telephone harassment, menacing or assault and it can lead to up to 90 days in juvenile custody.
Having a naked photo of a teenager on your phone is illegal even if you're also a teenager, she said. Lawson cautioned that someone with inappropriate photos on their phone could spend considerable time in juvenile detention.
The speakers at Thursday's program agreed that some of the mistakes children make fall into the categories of "kids being kids" or "part of growing up," but some of it is more serious than that.
"It's up to you to decide if this is 'part of growing up' or not," Reese said to the parents.