H.B. police talk to parents about Internet safety

Monitoring kids' online activities, becoming more familiar with the various social media platforms and smartphone applications, and knowing Internet login information were some of the tips parents received to protect their children from sexual predators.

Huntington Beach police detectives told parents Wednesday during an Internet safety presentation at the Central Library to be more involved in their children's social media activity.

The hourlong seminar was prompted by a recent local sexual predator case. Jackson Roland Westermeyer, 18, is accused of exchanging lewd photos and soliciting sex from minors in Huntington Beach and elsewhere.

"The sad thing is that this case is not unique," Det. Steve Fong said. "This happens all around."

To prevent additional teens from becoming victims, authorities discussed the types of social media platforms children are using nowadays and told parents they should keep up with the latest trends.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Skype have become household names over the past five years, but police told parents to keep an eye out for up-and-coming smartphone applications like Kik Messenger and Snapchat.

"They're coming out with new applications and new software all the time," Fong said. "As parents, we have to be working together with our kids to find out how to use these programs."

Additionally, authorities said parents should be aware of online computer games that allow their children to chat with others they are competing with.

Police played a video of a news story from 2008, when a man from Kelseyville, Calif., tried to entice a teenage girl from Salt Lake City to travel to the West Coast to meet him.

Authorities from Utah stopped the girl from making the trip, and the suspect, a 41-year-old man who had posed as a male teenager, was arrested; he eventually pleaded guilty to coercion and enticement for illegal sexual activity, according to a press statement from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Huntington Beach detectives mentioned a similar incident that occurred locally in 2010, when a man from San Pedro was accused of sexually assaulting a female teenager he met on the social media website Myspace.

"The media highlighted this one incident. It doesn't mean this is the only incident," said Det. Trent Tunstall about the case from Utah. "It's happening in our city, it's happening in Orange County, all over California and across the U.S.

"You need to understand that these types of people are out there and attempt to prey on our kids, and it's up to us to make sure our kids are safe from that."

Fong and Tunstall emphasized to parents that they have their children's login information for all of their social media platforms.

"You should have every username and every password that your kid is using, especially with their phones," Tunstall said. "And if you attempt to log in and they've changed that password, that phone needs to come back into your hands.

"They need to be aware that if you're going to supply them with that device that they can access the Internet on at any time they want, that you get access to it as well any time you want."

Ken and Trisha Mather, who have two teens, said the advice gave them a better sense of how to monitor their children's social media activity.

"As much as I thought I was up to date on what apps were out there for my kids, I saw some names of apps that I wasn't even aware of yet," said Ken Mather, 42. "It just gives me more ammunition when I go home to look a little further."

Huntington Beach Neighborhood Watch board member Tony Bresse, a software engineer, said teaching children how to use social media responsibly is similar to teaching them how to ride a bicycle or drive a car.

"Social media today is part of our life," he said. "We run, we eat, we ride bicycles, and social media is also a part of our life and we can't ignore it."

Bresse, 53, said denying teens the use of social media could be detrimental and that it is better to work with them to develop the right habits.

He said parents should create a list of actions their children should or should not take when interacting with people online. He added that parents should encourage their children to come up with their own list as well.

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