2017-08-09 / School News

Experts share what kids and parents should know about apps & online safety

by Kate Evans

With the potential dangers that could await children and teens on the internet, parents are being urged to monitor their children’s devices, apps and online activity.

According to a West Virginia State Police expert on crimes against children, there are new apps and programs emerging all the time for parents to watch for. Any programs that use GPS location technology or let unknown adults have contact with children should make parents particularly wary.

Parents and guardians should monitor their children’s social media friends and use and should know what apps are on their children’s phones, computers and mobile devices. Delete apps that could endanger kids, police officials advise.

Concerns about sexting and apps being used by online predators prompted the Morgan County Partnership, schools, Shenandoah Women’s Center and town and state police to organize a spring “Bad Apps” talk for parents by West Virginia State Police Corporal Fred Edwards of the Crimes Against Children Unit.

Edwards also did a youth-oriented “Bad Apps” talk at Warm Springs Middle School and Paw Paw Schools during the 2016-2017 school year.

Edwards said there isn’t one specific app that’s dangerous-all apps are susceptible to being used inappropriately. Parents should know what the apps are capable of and set limits or get the child off the device if it’s putting them in a vulnerable position.

Bad apps

Morgan County Partnership executive director Megan Hauser and director Shamus Cleveland and Morgan County Schools social worker Hannah Stewart shared information about some potentially bad apps.

The Kik messaging app allows kids to communicate with strangers anonymously through a user profile.

On Snapchat, users can send photos and videos with a time limit before they self-destruct. However, before the images disappear, others could capture them and redistribute the photos and videos without the user’s knowledge, said Stewart. The app can be used for sexting.

Tinder is a dating site where it’s easy for adults to contact youth using GPS. The app’s “rating system” is associated with cyber-bullying.

Blendr is a dating app that can also be used for sexting. It allows strangers to become aware of a user’s location through GPS.

Omegle lets users message and video chat with random strangers and ask questions of them.

Poof allows users to hide apps that are on their device.

Users on Ask.fm can ask each other questions with no language or topic restrictions. The site has objectionable content and is associated with cyberbullying.

Whisper encourages sharing secrets and sensitive information with strangers, puts users at risk of cyberbullying and often has adult content.

Vine and Musical-ly allow kids to create short videos, but strangers could message them.

Cleveland said there are always new apps coming out and that it’s important for parents to be up-to-date on the apps and to be computer-literate.

Biggest concerns

Corporal Edwards said parents should know who their children are speaking to on social apps and who their friends are. If kids can’t explain that they’ve met a person through school, church or summer camp, then they shouldn’t be associating with them online.

Edwards noted that some teens have 600 to 1,000 friends on their Facebook page.

“It’s physically impossible for them to personally know that many people,” he said.

Adults, teens and children should never meet someone that you don’t know offline or send them photos or personal information. Someone they’ve met online may not be who they say they are, said Edwards.

“Don’t ever do it -- you’re taking a risk,” he stressed.

Edwards also noted that State Code prohibits making and sharing pornographic photos of minors. Kids who send, receive and distribute nude or partially nude selfies or photos could be held criminally liable with possible criminal outcomes.

Stewart said one of the biggest concerns is the lack of understanding about the dangers of revealing where a child lives or is active. Apps with GPS location services can show where a person is. Teens often send photos of themselves on Snapchat, Facebook and other apps and social media that identify where they live or go to school. That can happen as easily as showing a photo of them wearing a high school t-shirt.

“When you do that it’s very easy for a predator to find you,” she said.

Predators can pose as another child or teen in the online world. Photo hash tags can draw in online predators.

Parent tips

Hauser stressed that parents should always know their child’s phone and computer passwords and user log-in and account information. Children should always share that information with their parents. If they don’t, parents should take their phone away from them.

Stewart said parents should scroll down their child’s friend list on their phone or social media accounts and ask them how they met this person if the parent doesn’t recognize the names.

General advice

—Be careful when online and let a parent or trusted adult know when something uncomfortable happens there.

—Do not accept friend requests unless you personally know the person.

—Don’t share personal information such as your age, address, phone numbers or school name on social media profiles.

—Set account settings to private and for friends only.

—Use parental control software on home computers and your child’s phone and devices.

—Have firewalls on and keep computer anti-virus and security software, operating systems, browsers and software updated. Scan computers and devices regularly.

Cleveland also cautioned parents and kids about playing online games on Xbox 1 and Playstation 4 with strangers.

Have the conversation

Hauser and Stewart urged parents to have the conversation about internet safety with their children and teens this summer.

Stewart stressed that both teens and adults should be cautious of the digital footprint they’re leaving.

Colleges use social media pages to evaluate teens for scholarships and college admittance. Businesses check social media posts of potential employees.

Embarrassing photos and inappropriate comments could damage reputations and ruin someone’s future.

Monitor privacy settings and friends’ lists, be careful of what you put online and keep open communications with your children to keep them safe, Stewart said.

All officials urged parents and caregivers to reach out to law enforcement, schools or local agencies with questions or concerns about something that’s happened online with a child.

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