Naperville police deal with one or two "sextortion" cases a month, according to the detective who oversees the department's High Technology Crimes Unit.
"It happens at almost every Naperville school in both Districts 203 and 204," Detective Richard Wistocki said of the practice in which a predator entices a child to send an indecent photo or video and then threatens to publicize it unless the victim sends more illicit items.
Too many parents think they can safeguard their child simply by warning them to avoid inappropriate internet contact with someone and promising they'll be punished with grounding or something similar if they do, said Wistocki, speaking at a panel discussion this week on "Tough Teen Topics: Social Media Safety, Anxiety, Parties and Depression" at Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn.
"I'm here to tell you that's the wrong approach," he said. "When you talk to your kids about technology, you have to tell them that you've learned about all the things that go on in social networks. You can't believe how many fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders have Snapchat and Instagram."
A sexual predator will engage with a child for three or four months by playing online games like Minecraft, Words With Friends or Musical.ly before diverting them to a private chat and transmitting his own indecent photos, Wistocki said.
"After he sends several pictures, he'll then tell your child, 'You owe me one pic,'" Wistocki said. "When you see that request, you're about to be the victim of sextortion. After your child sends even one photo or video, the predator will then have control."
The advice Wistocki had for parents is to "keep their devices out of the bedrooms because bedrooms are for sleeping. There's no such thing as privacy for children."
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin advised parents about the various types of internet crimes, such as cyberstalking and harassment by electronic communication.
"An actual conversation is not necessary for harassment by telephone," Berlin said. "It simply could be multiple calls that are just hang-ups or heavy breathing on the other end. It's important for parents to know these laws are out there when they talk to their children."
DuPage County Undersheriff Frank Bibbiano told the crowd of a free sheriff's office's program for parents that is capable of recovering deleted messages from cell phones.
Several other panelists emphasized that medical data shows that the area of the brain affecting judgment does not fully develop until after the teenage years.
Justin Wolfe, a clinical therapist at Naperville's Linden Oaks Behavioral Health Service, said teens often are overly concerned with their self-image and may turn to unhealthy relationships, destructive behavior and substance abuse.
"Depression, self-injury and a feeling of hopelessness can happen," Wolfe said. "Alcohol or substance abuse can prevent a teen from fully engaging. The stress instead can cause them to feel as if they're just floating through life."
Patrick McGrath is a clinician for anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates.
"We are social beings, but we don't necessarily know how to be social," he said. "In the old days, the doorbell would ring and we'd jump up to see who it was. Nowadays, some people just want to turn off the lights and hide."
McGrath recommended that families turn off the television and have dinner together with no cell phones at the table.
One of the most moving stories presented at the forum came from Lake County Judge Christopher Stride, who presided over the 2007 trial of two Deerfield parents who allowed an underage drinking party to take place in their basement while they were home. Two teenagers died in a car accident later that evening.
"This was a case that changed the law," Stride said. "Nothing prepared me for the maelstrom that happened."
Jeffrey and Sara Hutsell's college-age son invited high school friends to their basement, where beer and rum were consumed, Stride said. Four of the teens at the party were in a car that crashed into a tree, decapitating the driver and killing another, he said.
The statute at the time bound Stride to sentence the parents to 30 days of work release, probation, community service and a fine.
Today, adults in Illinois who knowingly host underage drinking that indirectly results in death are guilty of a Class 4 felony, with a maximum prison sentence of six years.
"Underage drinking is an important topic to address with us students because a lot of adults just brush it off," Maddie Muldoon, 16, of Naperville said. "A lot of kids don't feel comfortable talking about this kind of stuff with their parents, but you can possibly get into even more trouble with the law if you don't. It's better to be in trouble with your parents than making a bad decision and then there's a car accident and someone dies."
Laura Kilius, 17, of Naperville, said, "Even though you might be in a bad situation with alcohol or illegal substances, you should feel comfortable to talk with your parents even though you might feel scared to do that."
Several parents attending the forum echoed Wistocki's advice that kids must have the confidence that their parents will help them out of a bad situations.
"There needs to be an openness rather than an accusatory atmosphere," said Geoff Phillips, a Glen Ellyn father of two high school students. "We've always had that kind of open dialogue in our home."
Cindy Deans, of Carol Stream, is mother to 10- and 13-year-old children.
"I think it's very important to be aware of internet bullying and what can go on," she said. "I never knew before tonight that kids can chat on Instagram. Parents need to talk to your children, know what websites they're on and who they're talking to."
Gary Gibula is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.
Experts warn parents of 'sextortion': 'It happens at almost every Naperville school' Gary Gibula Naperville Sun March 23 2017