It’s critical to monitor children’s online activity

Ponca City Now - August 22, 2019 11:06 am

Police Chief Don Bohon

By Ponca City

Police Chief Don Bohon

As law enforcement officers, we have seen the questions we are asked, and the topics we are asked to talk about most frequently, change over time. Over the last few years, the one topic that we are repeatedly asked about is how social media and cell phones impact our young people. So many times when we talk about this issue, we feel like our comments are falling on deaf ears, or people feel like we must be talking about “other people’s” kids.

No matter how well you “know” your child. No matter how smart they are, they can fall prey to the pitfalls of social media and the problems it brings. The best advice we can give is to MONITOR their activity on phones, on computers, and on any other communication device. By monitor, we don’t mean look at the apps they have on the screen once a month. We mean frequent and unannounced inspections.

Look for apps that allow them to go LIVE and broadcast streaming video. Some of those apps allow anyone in a certain geographic area to watch that video as it is broadcast. Seemingly harmless apps that allow your child to share videos among friends give other people access to your children if the account is not set to private, or the child accepts friend/follow request indiscriminately. Gaining followers seems to be a mark of success to many young people, so they will accept any request that comes in, never knowing who is actually watching them.

When you monitor, don’t just glance at the phone or the computer. Look at their “profiles;” look at who they follow and who follows them. Look at profiles of followers and those they follow. What are they posting?

Does your 12-year-old, 14-, 16-, or even 17- year- old child have 1,000 plus followers? 5,000 followers? 10,000 followers? Even in the most liberal of circumstances, no young person has that many people he/she knows and should trust. Odds are, a great number of those followers are bogus profiles set up by people who are interested in your child and the photos and videos he or she posts for the wrong reason. Curiosity, naivety, wanting for attention and friends, and trusting are things that people with bad intentions prey on. They are also the hallmarks of youth.

Look at all the messaging, chat, or “e-mail” parts of the apps, even gaming apps, and see who is talking to your children. Kids know many parents will only check texts and call logs, so they utilize many different apps for messaging. They will switch conversations from one app to the next.

Get online and Google “worst apps for kids” or “worst apps for teens.”

Look for apps that allow them to hide things from you. Many apps that provide “private” or hidden storage for photos and videos are disguised as a calculator, and typing a PIN or code into the calculator opens a hidden photo and/or video vault.

Talk to the parents of your child’s friends. We have to work together to protect our kids. Please do not allow children the privacy to become a victim. Don’t allow them the privacy to become an unwitting “criminal” either. Many young people have no idea that sending and receiving some photos or video can get them in a great deal of trouble. The fact that they didn’t know what they were doing is illegal will not keep them from getting arrested. Ignorance of the law will not keep them from having a record that follows them for the rest of their lives, and in some cases it will not keep them from being a registered sex offender.

Kids don’t have the right to privacy from their parents. They are not equipped with the knowledge and maturity to make the right decision in many of these situations. You may think your child is, but he/she is not. You may think your child will tell you if he/she is propositioned/solicited but most times he/she won’t.

We have to remember that none of us are truly ready for what is out there in the world, especially young people, and it is our job to try to protect our children/adolescents/teens from risks that they don’t know about and don’t understand.

A few things worth adding…

  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates 90 percent of child victims of human trafficking and sex-trafficking make their initial contact with an abuser online.  With the changes in some previously used forums, the majority of those victims are now being contacted via app based communications.
  • Just because the app is not readily visible on the child’s smart phone does not mean it is not being used.  Apps can easily be deleted before coming home each day and can just as easily be installed after a child goes to bed or leaves for the day.  Download histories, in-App purchase histories, update histories and apps that allow the user to store multiple passwords and usernames should all be viewed regularly. Look at the purchased or downloaded apps. They may have apps that are not on the screen, but have been used.
  • Bad guys will travel.  Do not assume that a predator in another city, another state, or even another country will not be able to cause harm to your child.  Many criminal organizations pay people to gather information about our youth.  There is no such thing as “innocent” communication or chatting with someone who is gathering information about your child. A very early case we worked involved a grown man driving well over 1,000 miles to see a 13-year-old girl he met on a Chat Room.
  • Real names should never be used on any gaming or chatting platform.  A very simple internet search can reveal home addresses, phone numbers, vehicle information, school information and many other tidbits that can potentially be used against your child. 
  • Many apps have multiple layers.  If your child has an App or game you do not understand, make them log in and allow you to browse through it freely.
  • Set rules and hold your child to them.  Your children need you to look out for their safety whether they know it or not.
  • Social Media is not a requirement.  Most children believe this to be the case; as adults, however, we know this is not reality.  If you find your child is abusing their privilege of internet and phone usage, it’s OK to take those privileges away from them.   They’ll be safer for it in the long-run and you’ll have the peace of mind that your child is safe.

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