KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) Cell phones and the internet have changed how children interact with the world, providing new ways for them to become victims or even predators themselves.
After several incidents that hit too close to home, school officials in Killeen ISD decided that parents need to become more aware of what their students are doing online.
Several cases involving cyberbullying, school threats and sexual predators prompted the district to host internet safety meetings at middle schools throughout the 2018-2019 school year.
One pending case out of Harker Heights involves a Union Grove Middle School coach who was arrested during a sting for the online solicitation of a minor last year in which the “Kik” app was used in an attempt to entice children to send sexually explicit photos or videos.
David Anthony Balsinger, 46, was arrested on Sept. 21, 2017 at his home on a warrant charging online solicitation of a minor, Hamilton County Sheriff Justin Caraway said.
Balsinger was charged after an exchange of a series of messages with whom he thought was a 15-year-old girl in Evant, but who actually was the Hamilton County sheriff.
KISD Police Chief Ralph Disher says new messaging apps make it easier for predators to gain access students.
“We’re seeing more and more with people getting arrested for using social media to prey on our students, and kids are using social media to bully other students,” says Disher.
“We’re trying to make them more aware and make it safe.”
Other apps parents should be on the lookout for include popular ones with messaging services like Snapchat and Instagram, but also lesser known ones like Stealthchat and Wickr where users can cover their tracks and have messages self- destruct after they’re read.
Disher says parents should require children to use a family or parent’s email address to register social media accounts.
Also apps such as M-Spy, Life 360, and Webwatcher can help monitor students’ usage.
The police chief says he was shocked by some of the ways students have been targeted, including a recent case out of Washington, D.C. where a local high school student was solicited online.
In another case Rebecca Sue Miller, 46, of Killeen, was arrested in August on a warrant that stemmed from an investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office into “images of child pornography that had been unloaded and shared through social media,” according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
However, Disher also thinks parents should be aware of the problems they can face if their student behaves badly online.
Even minors can face charges by having nude images of anyone under 18 on their phones or computers, whether they plan to use them or not.
“Just merely possessing it makes it a violation,” he says.
“It’s a misdemeanor offense, but they still can be charged with it and have to go through the juvenile courts and be adjudicated which means they get put on some type of probation that they have to serve out- whether it’s six months, a year, or two years.”
He says students often send nude photos of themselves to someone they think they can trust, but according to a pediatric study, one in eight teens forward those pictures to someone else.
That can lead to cyberbullying, and in some cases, parents can even be prosecuted if their child is caught bullying online.
Disher says the way to prevent these cases is for parents to have open communication with their students.
The district will continue to host the internet safety meetings throughout the school year.
Parents can check with their student’s middle school for dates and times.