Deputy Jason Johnson, the public information officer for the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, was at Hamilton Middle School on Tuesday to talk to students about problems that were largely unknown to kids their age just 10 or 15 years ago.

The dangers of cyberbullying, inappropriate text and picture messaging and other Internet dangers are an increasing threat youngsters face in this modern age.

“We are seeing more and more of this type of stuff,” Johnson told the class. “It’s only going to get worse the more people use computers and cell phones in their daily lives.”

He told the class about a young woman who sent her boyfriend an inappropriate picture of herself, known as “sexting,” and later committed suicide because she couldn’t erase the picture.

“No matter where she went or how much time passed, she couldn’t escape that one picture,” Johnson told the students. “That’s what happens when you post something on the Internet. You can never get rid of something that’s on the Internet. Things can end up in the hands of anybody, including sexual predators.”

Johnson also told the class that Internet hackers can take over their webcams or steal photos off their Facebook page if they don’t have the privacy settings set right.

“I had one mother who told me she found out that her daughter was sending photos of herself to a man in Phoenix that she didn’t even know,” he said. “He had been pressuring her with threats to keep sending pictures. You have to be aware of this type of predatory behavior that’s out there.”

Johnson was in town as part of the Ravalli County DUI Taskforce’s “Eighth Grade Transitions” program.

The Eighth Grade Transitions class is an annual program that is meant to teach teenagers the dangers of drinking, drugs and other modern traps before they hit high school.

Glenda Wiles, the DUI task force coordinator, set up different workstations for the kids on impaired driving, bullying, alcohol, Internet crimes, media literacy and drugs.

For the impaired driving workshop, Montana Highway Patrol trooper Rocky Bailey and other volunteers put impaired vision goggles on the kids and let them drive around a cone obstacle course in Gators.

Bailey would then get groups of the kids together to see if they could perform a field sobriety test with the goggles on. All of the kids swayed back and forth on the pavement as they tried to walk just 10 steps, eliciting a chuckle from their peers.

“It’s amazing how much alcohol affects your ability to think, walk and drive,” Bailey told the kids. “These goggles simulate what alcohol does to impair your vision, but they don’t even take into account the effects on your brain.”

The program will be held at every school in the Bitterroot Valley this week, as well as the Trapper Peak Job Corps. The program is paid for by fines assessed to convicted drunken-driving offenders. Every time someone in the county gets a DUI, they have to pay $250 to get their driver’s license reinstated. That money goes to the task force, which usually collects between $12,000 and $14,000 every year, Wiles said.

For more information, visit http://rc.mt.gov/taskforce/default.mcpx or call 375-6500.

Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

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