CLARENDON HILLS – Jeff Bean is on almost every social media site, but not only does he assume a false name, he also poses as a completely different, much younger person.
“I have Facebook as a kid – a made-up person,” said Bean, a police officer with the Woodridge Police Department and president/CEO of Act on Bullying. “I have Twitter, I have Instagram, I have Kik, I’m on ask.fm s ... I’m on all these sites and as soon as I find out the kids are going there that’s where I go.”
As Bean explained it during a Parent Teacher Organization meeting at Clarendon Hills Middle School on March 12, he does it in the name of safety.
With 14 years of law enforcement experience, Bean has spent a majority of his time working with juveniles and has been a D.A.R.E. officer in Woodridge for the past five years.
Since then, he has been monitoring the behavior of kids with social media sites to the point where he has more than 300 Facebook friends for his fake profile.
“Of all the say, 350 friends I have on Facebook, less than 10 have asked me who I was when I Facebook friend them,” he said. “They truly do not care about safety, they care about popularity.
“They want to have the most friends, the most followers.”
As the social media craze continues, so too does what Bean refers to as a “worldwide epidemic,” – bullying and cyberbullying. At the start of the meeting, a projector displayed some of the most popular social media outlets today: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, ask.fm, XBox Live, PS3, Yik Yak and Vine.
“Everything you see, if there’s something up there you’re not familiar with, you’re behind the times, because your kids are,” he said. “I’m talking as young as fourth grade.”
Bean said kids are being harmed emotionally and physically, sometimes even leading to suicide because of the impact of bullying and cyberbullying. This is not the same kind of bullying neither parents nor Bean grew up with.
“The kids are thriving with the anonymity,” he said, when it comes to sites such as Kik and Yik Yak. “They’re torturing each other because there’s no way for the kids to know who’s sending it.”
That’s one of the reasons why Bean started the company Act on Bullying in 2012, which takes a proactive approach to addressing the problems of bullying and cyberbullying in the workplace and in schools.
In 2010, Bean conducted a survey of fifth- and sixth-graders and found 55 percent were using social media sites, while 32 percent were victims of bullying. In 2012, that number jumped to 77 percent using social media with 24 percent being victims of bullying.
The data that startled Bean was in 2010, 75 percent of the students surveyed said they wouldn’t report cyberbullying because they’re afraid parents would take away the device or block them from the website. To Bean’s relief, that number has now dropped to 30 percent in 2012. He believes that’s because of the increase in education.
“The kids in fifth and sixth grade now know they need to tell an adult,” he said.
Bean said there are some benefits to social media, such as staying connected with friends and family and sharing information quickly on a large scale. But his advice for parents is to make sure your child is ready for social media sites, know passwords and know what the app is before they download it.
He said parents also can use sites such as commonsensemedia.org to receive information on social networking. While it may be more difficult, Bean suggested getting kids phones with basic functions and not smartphones.
It’s important to not spy on your kids as well, Bean said, as you will “win the battle but lose the war” because further down the road kids won’t trust you. Instead, spend time with your kids and get involved in what they like.
“You need to show an interest in the things that interest them,” he said. “They want you to spend time with them.”