Today's teens spend up to nine hours a day using media, consumed with popular apps and communicating behind the confines of a glass screen. Here’s the problem. Many of these apps put kids at risk of being targeted and groomed by predators through chat and messaging features, whether video, audio or text. Although most apps require users to be at least 13 years of age, children can easily lie about their age in order to join these sites, risking exposure to content and activities suitable only for more a more mature audience. This is one of the reasons why we are part of #FixAppRatings, joining the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Protect Young Eyes and others allies in the movement in calling for an independent app review board to approve the age-rating of the top-used apps.
Here are few apps police say men used to contact and have sex with 14-year-olds:
Other more well-known apps used during their operation include:
(Note: information from Sarasota County Sheriff's Office: “15 Apps Parents Should Know About.”
Of course, there’s a long list of mobile applications kids gravitate to which are not mentioned above. A 2018 study by Common Sense Media found that teens overwhelmingly choose Snapchat (41%) as their main social media site, followed by Instagram (22%) and Facebook (15%). Of course, kids also flock to Twitter, WhatsApp, and a host of others used for microblogging, live video streaming, video/photo-sharing, texting, and chatting/dating.
Teens (and certainly not kids under 13 years old who shouldn’t be on these apps given the app’s age restrictions) are spending enormous amounts of time on a daily basis communicating with others, putting them at greater risk than ever before of being preyed upon. All too often, we hear the stories of an adult male who makes a fake social media profile, and over time grooms a child, gains the child’s trust, and ultimately asks for nude photos (possibly threatening/blackmailing the child if he or she don’t comply).
Additionally, a predator will typically engage other forms of sexual interactions and often seeks in-person sexual encounters. We must let kids know that unless he or she knows a person in real life, that person is not their friend, and never to send pictures or any other personally identifiable information, and certainly never meet that person offline.
Parents must be vigilant about what kids do on all their Internet-enabled devices. Don’t take their word for it when they insist they’ll “be okay” and that know what dangers and red flags to look for. Kids and youth are not able to deal with a manipulative predator’s grooming techniques.
As the parent, you set the rules. Furthermore, don’t fall for the trap of your child insisting “every kid in my school is on this app” and assume all will be well. Instead, follow these initial steps before allowing your child access to a device that can put him or her in contact with a predator.
A few reminders to discuss with your kids when using apps:
Before allowing your child to download any apps, be sure to set up parental controls and use privacy settings on any device utilized by your child that connects to the internet, including smart phones, laptops, tablets, and gaming systems. We’ve got a great resource here with links to help walk you through each type of device.
Finally, monitor, monitor, monitor when it comes to your child’s access to others via the internet. Apps may not be what they appear to be, as is the case with the Calculator% app. It looks like an innocent calculator app on an iPhone or Android device, but can be used to hide photos, videos, files, and even browser history. And don’t become too complacent just because you have familiarized yourself with an app and set up the necessary settings and parental controls.
Police warn often times predators will chat with kids on children’s apps or games, and then try to get them to join them on another app or social media site where they can begin the grooming process. The watchful eyes of parents are sometimes the best protection a parent can offer a child when it comes to social media and internet use.
Technology can offer amazing opportunities for kids to interact, learn, investigate and explore. However, an all-access, free rein pass into the digital word can open up incredibly dangerous doors to dangerous people, even criminals and harmful content such as hard core pornography. Remember to secure your child’s safety in the digital world. Just as you do in the in your own home with locks, bolts, gates, alarms, curfews and rules, so too must we ensure a child’s safety in the digital world.
In short, follow these safety “Rules N Tools” tips to get started and apply them to every device used by your child:
For more information, visit Safety & Prevention section on InternetSafety101.org, and print out a copy of the Rules ‘N Tools checklist. Also, be sure to use our Youth Pledge to be signed by both the parent and the child.