After writing last week’s article on trafficking in the US, I received a phone call from a local father telling me about how his daughter almost fell into a potential trafficking situation through bullying and intimidation right here in Williamsport. This girl was threatened in person and on social media. He asked that I remind parents to know for sure what their children are up to online and know the signs that something isn’t right with their kids.
This story of this made me wonder if parents really understand the potential danger of their children’s online interactions.
I don’t have kids, but I do know social media. I see the dangers and see the ways to help prevent your kids from getting caught up in the potential vulnerability.
First and foremost, and I may get some backlash for this, but if it potentially helps save a child’s life or innocence, then I am fine with that.
Your child is not entitled to privacy when it comes to social media and their cell phones (especially if you are the one paying for it.)
This isn’t their diary or journal. You have the right to know what they are doing online and who they are doing it with.
You should not only be friends with your child on FB, but you should be following them on Twitter and Instagram and Vine (like Instagram, but with short videos) and Snapchat (Allows you to send pics and videos that ‘disappear’ after you see/watch them). You should also be checking their phones for apps like Omegle (which allows you to chat/video chat with random strangers) and Tinder, which is a dating app that shows you people in your area.
A couple of other, supposedly anonymous, apps that should you be on the look out for are: Whisper, Yik Yak, and BurnApp.
Whisper is an app that allows you to share ‘secrets’ with strangers anonymously, which in theory could be a great way to vent all those teenage emotions, but in reality is often being used as a way to find and hook up with people in your area.
Yik Yak is similar to Twitter, but again anonymous. It broadcasts your posts to 500 people closest to you geographically.
BurnApp is like Snapchat for text messaging. You send a text to someone and after a certain amount of time the text disappears. This is an interesting app because you don’t have to have the app in order to receive a message through it.
You should also have passwords to their phones and all of these apps, because kids are techy and know how to set things up to control what you, specifically, can see from the outside. The only way you fully see what your kids are posting/sending/receiving is from inside the app.
Reading a kids text message seems easy enough, but did you know that looking at the phone’s default text app may not be enough? Kik, ooVoo, WhatsApp and Line are all alternative apps used for texting/messaging.
Technology is constantly advancing and your kids are advancing with it. You owe it to your kids to make sure you are too.
Teenage hormones and developing brains means even the smartest kids will make stupid decisions now and then (and probably a few times in between.) Make sure you are armed with everything you need to know to be their fall back when they make a mistake.
Remind kids that shouldn’t be accepting friend requests from people they do not know and they should never give out personal information to those they are interacting with online. Do this often. Kids ‘forget’ stuff all the time – like taking out the garbage, cleaning their room, finishing homework, walking the dog, feeding the cats, putting the toilet seat down, putting their dishes in the dishwasher – and all of that is pretty trivial by comparison to their personal safety.
‘Stranger Danger’ is as real today as it has ever been, but there is a lot more outlets in which contact can be made with your kids.
It’s easy to think, “Not my kid.” Or, “My kids wouldn’t.” But yes, your kid and yes they would.
It’s also important to know what your kids are up to IRL (that’s In Real Life). Know their friends. Know their friends’ parents. Keep in touch with both. Are they going where they say they are? Are you sure? Are they really staying a little Susie’s house? Is little Susie’s parents actually home?
It may seem intrusive, but again, arming yourself with information is the best way to keep your kids safe. Plus, keeping up with their lives will strengthen the bond you have with your kids. The stronger that bond, the more likely they are to come to you if they find themselves in a situation they are unable to handle.