FONTANA - Police Sgt. Tom Yarrington logged into a online chat room as a 13-year-old girl.
Within a minute, Yarrington was contacted by a 22-year-old man named Alex who started asking "the girl" sexually explicit questions, such as "Ever have phone sex?"
It was an eye-opener for parents who filled the City Council chamber on Friday who came to learn about keeping their children safe on the Internet from predators.
"This guy doesn't know who I am. He thinks I'm a 13-year-old girl. Look at how fast this has gone to a very dangerous environment for your children," Yarrington told parents.
It showed parents firsthand the need to monitor their children.
"It's a cruising ground for predators," Yarrington said of chat rooms.
The parents had gasped at the chat-room conversation.
"The most shocking was how quickly he had someone approach him in the chat room," said Karen Viloria, mother of two.
"That was disturbing," Terri Polichetti added.
Statistics also were surprising.
One in four children on the Internet had an unwanted exposure to sexually explicit pictures that were inappropriate for them to view, Yarrington said.
One in five children receiveda sexual solicitation, he said.
Besides chat rooms, the sergeant covered instant messaging, text messaging and MySpace.
The nearly three-hour long class showed parents how to create, search and even shut down a MySpace account so they can get comfortable with the social networking Web site many kids use. He said 61 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds have a personal profile on a site such as MySpace.
He also went over safety features such as privacy settings.
"The problem is they bypass the safety features and that's what allows a predator into your home through your computer," Yarrington said.
To keep a close eye on their children, parents need to set ground rules of Internet activity, the sergeant said.
"You're not spying on them. There are thousands of people who are reading everything they're doing, and why shouldn't you be?" Yarrington said.
Griselda Guzman said she plans to tell other parents what she learned.
"I think every parent should know that stuff before they even consider letting their child open an account ... that you can monitor and that you can set parental controls," she said.
At minimum, if children are going to have a MySpace profile, parents should be able to access it and know the password and e-mail address, Yarrington said.
That's what Alma Loza plans to do.
"You want to have this, I want to have something," she said she'll tell her four kids.
No one younger than 14 should be in a chat room and never allowed to go into private, unsupervised chat rooms, Yarrington said.
Home computers should be out in an open area where other people are around, making it easier to monitor, he said. He said 42 percent of parents nationwide don't check what their children are doing online.
Parents can also buy software and hardware to limit computer access and check Internet history to help monitor and protect their kids.
For screen names, kids should not use anything to identify them, like including their age in their display name.
Pedro Zamora's three children often use the computer at home and so does he. But he said he uses the Internet to communicate to relatives in other countries but never thought it was a tool to reach out to his kids at home.
"I'm going to pay more attention," he said. "It's scary," he said.
Yarrington hopes parents now realize the severity of the threat of online predators.
"By them seeing how quickly someone tried to entice me into sexual acts as a 13-year-old girl, they will realize that it's not just people crying wolf, that is really occurring and it's occurring even with their children without them realizing it," he said.
The class can be downloaded on the city's Web site at www.fontana.org.
Contact writer Leonor Vivanco at (909) 386-3875 or via e-mail at email@example.com
BS Ranch Perspective
This is a good Idea, but on the other hand it does raise Interest in what would happen if. So the parents better not close the door and say that they handled it and that is that on this subject. They better ride this like it is a monkey on their back and stay on top of their kids so that their natural curiousity will not take over on a sleep over or when they are alone at any time, they will try this out and have a great deal of fun doing it.
I am glad and sad that they showed them this at the cost of the curious teen they might have opened a can of worms. They have to stay on top of the whole thing and get it straight that they should not try it even when they are alone and well, left to their own devices on the computer, because they were shown this they might just figure that it would be fun to do this and well they could deliver just to much information and then they have a child molester at their house and well that would be it stuck with a molester at their own house and the sad part is that the Fontana Police Department will get the blaim for this.
However, if the parents follow through and keep on the top of what the Police showed the Parents and Students this day, then they will be the winners in this message and the Fontana Police will never hear about this message. I just hope that this message doesn't come back to haunt them.