As students throughout Chicagoland head back to the classroom, some local police and school administrators are greeting them with a message about online safety.
In May, NBC 5 Investigates found users on an anonymous image board were soliciting or trading nude photographs of what appear to be former high school students. Threads listing at least 67 high schools in the Chicago-area and Illinois were identified.
Since that initial report, NBC 5 Investigates has found nude photo bartering is still ongoing, and users have created groups for a dozen more schools, including Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago and Niles North High School is Skokie.
“Sexting is almost to an epidemic proportion,” said Chicago Police Det. Charles Hollendoner. “Parents just don’t realize how dangerous and how much it’s used.”
Hollendoner gives roughly 120 presentations at schools in Chicago and Cook County about the dangers of sharing too much on social media.
“It’s not only the pictures. It’s the comments that follow these pictures – body shaming. It’s scary when you read some of the things people say about these kids,” Hollendoner said.
Hollendoner said his team gets about 40 new child exploitation cases a month that need immediate attention.
His message to students is that sharing intimate photos usually never stays between two people and that that decision will haunt teens into adulthood.
Those stories are also retold to parents, though Hollendoner admits parent engagement is often low. He said in a school of 3,000 kids, only six parents showed up to a presentation. He said his biggest piece of advice to parents is to monitor their children’s social media activity.
“Be a parent,” said Hollendoner. “That’s your phone. That’s not your kid’s phone or your kid’s device. You’re paying for it. You have every right to access it.”
In the Glenbard High School District, engaging families around difficult topics facing students is a top priority.
Each year, the district hosts the Glenbard Parents Series. Experts are invited to speak to parents on a wide variety of issues from social media to preparing for college entrance exams.
“To communicate with your teens is critical and challenging,” said Gilda Ross, a long-time school administrator who created the series. “I think that’s why we have two ears and one mouth. We have to listen more.”
The district is offering approximately 50 free programs this school year. They are offered at different times and in Spanish to accommodate families. Attending a session is a requirement for all families of student-athletes.
“Parents are really desperate for help – how can I reach my child? How can I help my child understand that this social media is not as social as one might hope?” Ross said.
Ross said the sessions are open to families from other districts as well. For more information on the Glenbard Parents Series, click here.