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Hillsboro parents attend meeting on kids and social media

HILLSBORO -- More than 100 parents in Hillsboro, a town rocked by rumors of harassment at the high school, came to the school gym Wednesday night for a talk on how to monitor their kids' online habits.

HILLSBORO -- More than 100 parents in Hillsboro, a town rocked by rumors of harassment at the high school, came to the school gym Wednesday night for a talk on how to monitor their kids' online habits.

Few details are known about the harassment issues at Hillsboro High School, but Superintendent Paula Peterson has said one student was disciplined and the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation is investigating.

Petersen has also said the harassment involved social media -- a topic that three Fargo police officers discussed in their presentation Wednesday.

"When we talk about online, online is everywhere," said Lt. Joel Vettel, who gave the presentation along with Detectives Chris Mathson and Nick Jonas. "Smartphones, computer games, you are logged in and children are logged in 24/7 now, with every device they have, some things you don't even know."

"They're doing everything online, and we need to know what those things are," he said.

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Vettel made his talk personal, telling stories about his own family -- he has two young daughters -- and making a point to remove his police badge and hand it over to a detective because, he said, "I'm going to you more as a father" than as an officer of the law.

He said parents need to discuss with their children the risks of using modern technology: cyberbullying, sharing nude images, and interacting with sexual predators.

"It's your responsibility to talk about the subjects that are hard because anybody can be their friend, you're their parent. So as we go forward in this, that's really the message," he said.

"Give them honest information, empower them, listen attentively, they'll tell, though it might take them a while."

Children should have consequences for inappropriate online behavior, and should never meet up with someone they met online without parental supervision, he said

Vettel said "kids are dumb" and often cannot tell what kind of behavior is appropriate.

On the subject of children sending and sharing nude pictures, Vettel said, "Oftentimes when we have charged youthful offenders for the distribution of child porn ... they don't see that it's wrong, right up to the point when lives are ruined and all of a sudden somebody's charged with a crime."

Vettel said his 9-year-old daughter had been caught up in a potentially inappropriate situation after she got a cellphone.

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His daughter thought she was texting a girl at her school, but in fact it was a 15-year-old boy, Vettel said.

"Here I am, 20 years in law enforcement, staring at a phone that my child, my 9-year-old, was being groomed on," he said.

Detectives Mathson and Jonas talked about legal consequences for various kinds of online sexual interactions involving minors.

Lee Erickson, 60, whose three children already went through the Hillsboro school system, said it was a good presentation on a "pretty widespread" problem.

And Sharon Maertens, 50, who drove from her home in Cooperstown, appreciated the "real nuts and bolts advice" offered.

"Kids don't know what they're getting into," she said.

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