iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices have become “vital” appendages to most teens… it's how they connect with one another and the rest of the world. While there are many advantages and fun-aspects of social media, there are also some very real dangers. Pulling back the covers, we find alarming statistics:
- More than 104 million child pornography images have been reviewed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children since 2002. This number is increasing at an alarming rate due in large part to the Internet. In fact, the number of new images reviewed in 2013 was an astonishing 24 million, an increase of 30% in just one year.
- In 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim's social networking site to gain information about the victim's likes and dislikes. (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2010)
- 65% of online sex offenders used the victim's social networking site to gain home and school information about the victim. (Journal of Adolescent Health, 2010)
- 70% of kids ages 8 to 18 report unintentionally stumbling across pornographic images while online. The average age for a child to be exposed to online pornography is 11 years old.
Online threats are very real and can range from mildly age-inappropriate content to cyberbullying to sexual exploitation, assault or even death. Child abuse investigator Detective Alex Petty specializes in child protection and abuse cases and has seen more than his fair share of crime related to teens and social media.
“There are some scary social media sites out there,” Detective Petty stated. “Parents need to be vigilant and help their kids understand the all-too-real dangers online.” He shared the following list of apps about which he thinks all parents should be familiar and have on their radars:
1) Ask.fm: This site allows people to anonymously follow users and ask any question they want. After reading all sorts of things about this app, I decided to download it myself… and was shocked. The 2nd question posed to me by an anonymous user was, “What is your bra size?” I can only imagine the types of questions posed to kids who actively use this app. YourSphere actually calls Ask.fm “a toxic site.” Detective Petty and I couldn't agree more.
2) Creepy: This app extracts geolocation data and pulls together all public information about a person that is available online. It then plots that data on a map when possible, showing users that person's whereabouts. “Creepy is a good name for this app,” commented Detective Petty.
3) Kik: This app specifies it's for people aged 17+… but younger kids are actively using it. Kik is commonly used for sexting – kids often promote their Kik names on Instagram, posting “Kik me at xxxx”. BeWebSmart.com did a little research on this app and immediately found some alarming, pretty standard activity (see example screen shot). BeWebSmart.com reminds parents, “Remember, you don’t need a phone to use iPhone apps; if your child has an iPod touch or an iPad, they can install iPhone apps. Kik is just one of many free texting apps available in the App store.”
4) Pheed: One of the fastest growing apps, Pheed has been touted by Forbes as ‘the new Twitter,' Mashable as ‘the next social craze,' and Huffington Post as ‘the next generation of social media.' With 81% of it's user base aged 14-25, Pheed is incredibly popular among teens. It offers live stream broadcast capability and, unlike Vine, doesn't set a time limit for video or audio streaming.
5) Snapchat: Widely known as “the sexting app”, kids often think photos they share immediately disappear… not true. Screenshots can be saved then distributed to others. I am a volunteer instructor for a body safety class that is taught in elementary schools in my area where Snapchat comes up. Even children in 2nd grade (i.e., 7 -9 year olds) know about Snapchat, either from older siblings, friends or from using the app themselves.
6) Qooh.me: Similar to Ask.fm., Qooh.me allows users to post anonymous questions — things I've read about this app is that the anonymous questions posed are often mean spirited or totally inappropriate, even though the Qooh.me ‘terms and conditions' state, “You may not use Qooh.me to abuse, bully, harass, threaten, malign, slander, impersonate or intimidate anyone.” There are no privacy setting options. Given the online feedback and Detective Petty's experience with this app, watch out for this one, parents!
7) Vine: This 6-second video production app is used by many for legitimate purposes, but it also has a dark side. When it was initially launched, Vine was heavily used to distribute pornography. Vine attempted to remove as much porn as they could, but to get around that and continue porn posts, users simply changed the hashtags they were using. Terms of service have not changed since 2013, so sexual content and nudity are still permitted.
Here are three more apps to add to Alex's primary list:
8 & 9) Whisper and Post Secret: both of these apps allow for anonymous posts of “secrets”. If secrets are linked to a child (accurately or inaccurately), they can lead to cyberbullying or worse.
10) Girls Around Me: a super creepy, sometimes referred to as a “stalking”, app, “Girls Around Me” uses geolocation technology that connects to other apps (such as Four Square or Facebook) to identify the location of females (or males – user can specify) in the user's immediate area. Over one-quarter of online sexual offenders used their victims' social media sites to identify their physical locations.
Parental Controls: What Are Content Ratings?
Parents can limit the types of apps their teens download to digital devices via parental control functions on iPhone or iPads. Various apps are assigned ratings (source: iTunes)…
- 4+ Applications in this category contain no objectionable material.
- 9+ Applications in this category may contain mild or infrequent occurrences of cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and infrequent or mild mature, suggestive, or horror-themed content which may not be suitable for children under the age of 9.
- 12+ Applications in this category may also contain infrequent mild language, frequent or intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and mild or infrequent mature or suggestive themes, and simulated gambling which may not be suitable for children under the age of 12.
- 17+ You must be at least 17 years old to purchase this application. Applications in this category may also contain frequent and intense offensive language; frequent and intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence; and frequent and intense mature, horror, and suggestive themes; plus sexual content, nudity, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs which may not be suitable for children under the age of 17.
BeWebSmart.com offers a simple step-by-step guide to restrict application downloads by rating. These steps should work for Apple products including iPhones and iPads. For parental controls on other types of digital devices, please refer to the manufacturers' websites for details and instructions.
There are steps parents can take to help protect their kids online. “It may seem daunting, but it doesn't need to be,” Detective Petty encourages parents. “Just actively check the phones, mobile devices and computers your kids use.” He advises parents to talk with their kids about social media safety, both while they are at home, as well as when they are at friends' homes, school or other places where they have access to the Internet.
Committed to preserving public safety and the protection of children, Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen, along with Detective Alex Petty, hosted a community forum, “Teens & Social Media”, in Noblesville, IN on March 10, 2014. Much of the information in this blog was shared at that forum. About the increase in social media related child abuse cases, Sheriff Bowen said, “Over the last couple of years, we've seen an uptick in these cases. Obviously, fraud and cybercrime have increased over the years with social media and the internet, so really this is a topic that's important to everybody.”
Detective Alex Petty is a veteran investigator in crimes against children. A former Hanover College football player and now law enforcement officer for 23 years, Alex has been with the Hamilton Co. Sheriff's Department since 1996 where he started in Sheriff's court security, moved to the patrol division and was then promoted to detective in 2006. Alex holds several professional designations including that of certified drug recognition expert and instructor, crisis negotiator, and instructor for Child First/Finding Words child forensic interview training in Indiana. A loving husband and proud father of four fabulous kids aged 17 to 10, Alex coaches football and basketball in his spare time. Ever since he was a little boy, Alex wanted to be an investigator. “I come from a single parent home, so I know what it's like for the single mom and dad,” he shared. “Kids are forced to adapt to ever-changing societal influences; some good, some bad. I want parents to know that if they communicate with their kids, take charge and do their part to show kids a healthy way to live, they really can strengthen family relationships.” Have a question for Alex? Contact him at (317) 733-1282 or [email protected].
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website, “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids” at gingerkadlec.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.
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