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'Scary, Graphic' Text Message Circulates at Ridgewood Elementary School

Somerville Elementary School 5th graders received a chain mail message "spreading like wildfire," prompting the principal to ask parents to talk to their children about social media.

A Ridgewood elementary school principal is asking parents to speak with their children after a "graphic" text message made the rounds to 5th graders.

According to a letter sent by Somerville Elementary School Principal Lorna Oates-Santos to parents on Tuesday, a text message "is circulating among our 5th grade students that is rather scary, quite graphic and inappropriate."

The text message is a chain-mail message demanding that recipients forward the message to other students or "bad things will happen to you," Superintendent Dan Fishbein said, without elaborating. Fishbein said the internet-based chain mail message has been around for more than five years. It was not sexual in nature.

"It is clear that this message was not created by a student at our school; rather, it comes from the internet and is spreading like wildfire," Oates-Santos wrote to parents. "Our students, however, are involved in forwarding the message and writing about it." 

She was not immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

But school personnel are asking that parents of 4th and 5th graders encourage children to report anything that they find uncomfortable and to shut off their phones before bed to get a good night's rest.

"This open dialogue is helpful and should be encouraged and applauded," Oates-Santos wrote. "Talk to your children about the implications of forwarding something inappropriate or scary to others. Even if they did not construct the email, forwarding it makes them part of the problem. I hope you seize this opportunity as a chance to speak to your children about social media."

The impact of social media has made headlines in village schools in the last few weeks.

Nude photographs of high school students surfaced and prompted district officials to demand the images be deleted, while also calling on parents to partner with them to highlight the risks of social media pose for students.

Boyd A. Loving March 20, 2013 at 09:55 PM
In keeping with the theme of a earlier news post regarding the school district, I suppose the origin of this message will be traced to someone in Trenton . . .
J sim March 20, 2013 at 10:16 PM
I must say, our children do not have smart phones. They have just plain old phones. Why do 9 and 10 year olds need to text? They just need to call their parents in an emergency. My children have to prove they can be responsible with regular phones before they can upgrade to smart phones. Parents need to give children the tools that they need, not everything they want.
James Kleimann March 20, 2013 at 10:45 PM
Thanks for your comment, J sim. What seems like an appropriate age for a smartphone?
Ex Rocker March 20, 2013 at 10:59 PM
Amen J sim
tell it to the judge March 20, 2013 at 11:45 PM
J Sim, Well said.
Boyd A. Loving March 20, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Even "dumb" phones are capable of receiving and/or sending text messages unless you have the feature(s) disabled.
John Hahn March 20, 2013 at 11:56 PM
21 years old seems appropriate. then they can drink and text and pay for their cell service. many smart phones just waste a persons' most valuable commodity. Their time.
MBB March 20, 2013 at 11:57 PM
I thought it was great that Dr. Oates-Santos addressed the issue in a letter to parents. She also visited each of the classrooms to speak to the kids and help reassure them that the text wasn't true and nothing would happen to them if they did not forward. Whether your child can text or not it was a good discussion around technology and made parents more aware of the dangers.
JT March 21, 2013 at 12:01 AM
I agree with you that children don't need smart phones. My daughter doesn't have any phone, but received the chain-mail by email. It's today's version of the old chain letter, of which I received many by mail, although not in 5th grade. They were just as scary. This one had my 5th grader freaked out! Parents just need to keep talking to their kids.
J sim March 21, 2013 at 12:20 AM
I say they get a smart phone when they can pay the bill. But that is me.
WheresMa&Pa March 21, 2013 at 02:39 AM
Sheesh...seems like school officials in Ridgewood want to erase all factors of adolescence The reality here is lack of parental involvement .What's next, an Ordinance to ban on spin the bottle?
Kris March 21, 2013 at 11:20 AM
You don't need a "smart phone" to text. I doubt there even exists a cell that doesn't text.
Concerned resident of wood March 21, 2013 at 12:24 PM
The fact that these young kids have phones is disgraceful. Why does a 10 year old need a cell phone? They don't, simple enough. Maybe when they're in middle school that's appropriate, but otherwise ridiculous. Parents are pathetic. And John Hahn you're pathetic too
westwood kid March 21, 2013 at 12:42 PM
why does a kid in 5h grade need a smart phone? i went to school and never had a phone and i made out just fine. got my phone when i was working and could pay the bill. ridgewood parents give there kids everything they dont need, insted of phones teach them street smarts and these things wount bother them. i cant see a kid in 5th needing a i phone what busiess is it being used for? i have 1 and i run 20 guys and over see a entire comapny and i never text only email and make phone calls.........
Mikka H March 21, 2013 at 01:22 PM
vas is zis "spin z bottle" ya?
JAFO March 21, 2013 at 03:31 PM
The rule in our house was the kids received a phone when they were old enough to walk to/from school without an adult. That was 4th grade. They do not have smart phones, but do have the ability to text. They use that feature very, very infrequently. An example of when they might use the phone is when they want to go to a friend's house after school. Rather than have them walk home and then have me drive them to their friend's house, a simple call or text after the bell rings solves that issue. It costs $10 a month for their phone which is well worth the investment.
Baba Booey March 21, 2013 at 04:34 PM
And some of these parents wonder why they're running short on money/getting foreclosed on...extra phone line, insurance on said phones(occasionally), 1,000+ channel cable, vacations 2-3+ times/year, unnecessary fancy cars, and the list goes on...
DD March 21, 2013 at 05:18 PM
Westwood apparently needs to step up their school system.
Harlan Consider March 21, 2013 at 05:31 PM
This isn't a Ridgewood thing. Young kids everywhere now have smartphones, even in what we think of as deprived locations. There's also a very big peer-pressure factor when it comes to clothers, popularity, and yes, phones. The majority of us don't want to see our kids upset and made fun of, so we tend to wince a little but usually cave-in. I can only speak for myself when I say that the cost is easily manageable but I also tweak their phone usage through online account administration so that there's no phone/data available between 9pm (11pm on Fri/Sat) and 6am. If you don't do this, they will be up all night texting.
Glen Rock March 21, 2013 at 06:33 PM
I personally received my first PHONE (definitely a dumb phone) for 5th grade graduation, heading into middle school. We all had LIMITED texting. Not my parents, but many would check their kid's phone regularly to make sure it was appropriate. Phones connect people to other people very quickly, and its dangerous. That power needs some maturity behind it. Kids should still be having their mom's call for play dates in 5th grade! They have books, playgrounds, ect. That being said, I got these messages over email. You can't avoid them, so parents should discuss social media with their kids, and in general, what is right and what is wrong. Also, smartphone age is up to the individual. I got my first smart phone droid upon entering high school, and an iphone senior year. My iphone now is my life; agenda, news paper, to-do list... I use it LESS for communication. I appreciate my parents getting it for me. That being said, not all college freshmen utilize their phones like I do. Everyone is different. If a child is making bad decisions with their phone, I would take it away immediately, especially a smart phone because the world is at your finger tips.
Lg March 21, 2013 at 07:36 PM
I have grown up in Bergen County, and I can tell you that the incident of the "scary" and intimidating chain letter is nothing new, except for the fact that the letters are now passed around on phones instead of paper. I also do not see a difference over whether a child gets a phone now or a year from now. Somerville is a wonderful school. I have two children in the school system and I am a teacher. I can confidently say that the children at Somerville are responsible, kind and well-behaved. As for those who call parents who give their children phones "pathetic," I would like to say that owning a phone turned my 11-year old into a monster, but alas, I cannot. It's a phone, not a BMW.
Kristen March 22, 2013 at 12:41 AM
I agree. I got my kids phones for MY piece of mind. Like so many things, blaming this on the phones is silly.
Elizabeth Cox March 22, 2013 at 03:56 AM
there is no need for name calling-
Jenne March 25, 2013 at 10:22 PM
I didn't have a cell phone until I was 35. But any child who does have some freedom may need a cell phone now-- because the payphones of our child no longer exist, so when a kid needs to call a parent, either they are using their own phone or begging the use of someone else's. There's no giving your kid a (dime, quarter, etc) to call Mom if something goes wrong; either they have a cell or they can't call. I don't text either-- but it sounds like this message was also being promulgated via email. And even kids who don't text can't keep their friends from texting them if they know the number.
D. L. Bauch March 31, 2013 at 03:39 PM
Maybe they should be required to take spelling test to qualify for a smart phone.

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