Are Mobile Applications Putting Your Child at Risk?
By Kathy Hatem, Director of Communications for Enough Is Enough
CHILD: “Hey Mom, I just met this really cool guy outside in the neighborhood. I think he likes me. Would it be okay for us to hang out in my bedroom?”
PARENT/S: “Are you out of your mind?”
While no parent I know would entertain this request, parents are unwittingly allowing this very scenario to play out daily in their own homes through the use of cell phones, computers, gaming consoles, and other devices used by their children. 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.
Enough Is Enough recently promoted The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office graphic “15 Apps Parents Should Know About.” While many well-known apps are not featured on this list as they were not used during the sheriff’s Operation Intercept VI, listed below are just a few they say men used to contact and have sex with 14-year-olds.
-Hot or Not: This app encourages users to rate your profile, check out people in the area and chat with strangers. The goal of this app is to hook up.
– Whisper: This is an anonymous social network that promotes sharing secrets with strangers. It also reveals a user’s location so people can meet up.
– Meetme: It’s a dating social media app that allows users to connect with people based on geographic proximity. As the app’s name suggests, users are encouraged to meet each other in person.
Other more well-known apps used during their operation include:
– Snapchat: It’s one of the most popular apps of recent years. While the app promises users can send a photo or video and it will disappear, recent features including “stories” allow users to view content for up to 24 hours. Snapchat also allows users to see your location
-Tiktok: A new mobile device app popular with kids that’s used for creating and sharing short videos. With very limited privacy controls, users are vulnerable to cyber bullying and explicit content.
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.
In August, a Forsyth, Georgia man was arrested after police say he solicited nude photographs and videos from dozens of teenage girls across the country using a Snapchat account. It was also alleged he threatened to publicly expose three victims if they refused to send him the nude photographs and videos, in one case threatening a 12-year-old girl to send nude photographs of her to her friends on Instagram if she didn’t comply.
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:
Be as anonymous as possible (do not post or share additional information)
Use strict privacy settings
Avoid in-person meetings
Be honest about their age when signing up for apps
Remember social networking sites are public spaces
Avoid posting anything that could embarrass them later or expose them to danger (think before they post)
Remember that people aren’t always who they say they are
Avoid inappropriate content and behavior, and, if encountered, report it to the social networking site
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:
Establish an ongoing dialogue and keep lines of communication open.
Supervise use of all Internet-enabled devices.
Know your child’s online activities and friends
Be sure your children use privacy settings on all social media platforms.
Periodically check your child’s online activity by viewing your browser’s history.
Set parental controls including age-appropriate filters,
Use monitoring software, and parent-approved buddy/gamer lists
Set time limits and turn on the time-limiting parental control tool.
According to a study published in the Preventive Medicine Reports journal, young people who spend seven or more hours a day on screens are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety as opposed to those who only have an hour of screen time daily. With the popularity (and necessity) for mobile devices and Internet access almost everywhere, cybersecurity is a topic we should be talking more about. June is Internet Safety Month, so let’s take the time to discuss Internet safety when it comes to children.
Limit screen time:
It’s important for parents to establish boundaries with their children when it comes to being on the Internet and using various devices. In a recent study done by the National Institute of Health, studies showed that children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time scored lower on thinking and language tests. These results would likely differ if parents lowered the amount of daily screen time to only 30 minutes a day or less.
Keeping devices in a hidden location will make it easier to limit screen time, as children won’t be able to look at them in plain sight and feel tempted to use them. Try using screen time as a supplement for something else, not a reward. Using these devices as a reward might instill a need for screen time in your children, which is unhealthy and can promote bad habits.
Discuss what’s “off limits”:
Once your children are old enough to use the Internet, it’s crucial to sit down with them and have a conversation about what is appropriate to use the Internet for and why. This discussion should be simple and clear cut so your child understands their limits. For example, sharing personal information online could be very dangerous, especially for children who don’t have the knowledge to fully understand online scams and other viruses that can affect their device.
Internet security is an important part of this discussion to have with your child. Explain why personal information is personal and should only be kept to yourself and not the rest of the Internet. There are several ways to restrict your kids from accessing the Internet so they can only play games or watch specific programs. Establish parental controls to figure out what you’d like to restrict and set that up before your child even touches the device. Be sure to repeat this process on all Internet-enabled devices. Do your research to find games or other forms of content that are educational for your kids, instead of harmful.
Teach open communication:
The most important part of Internet safety is learning to have an open line of communication with your child. If they encounter any issues or problems while using the Internet, they should come to you first for guidance and advice. Every time your child uses a device, remind them that if they have any issues or questions to come to you first. Make sure they feel comfortable coming to you if they are confused about anything they see or stumble across by accident or intentionally. This is relevant for pop-up ads, phishing emails, spammy games, etc.
Sitting down with your child and playing some games together is another positive way to use the Internet but also continue to have open communication. Games like KidsCast, Word Beach, and PBS KIDS games all have appropriate content suitable to assist in teaching kids rather than just entertaining them. The Internet can be such a fun tool as long as you still put in the effort to converse with your child and find ways to keep them stimulated and constantly learning.
As kids get older, the time spent online will naturally increase, but screen time should still be limited as research shows too much of it impacts mental and physical health. Screen time also takes valuable time away from daily outdoor activities, communication development, and several other growing experiences.
This week, State Representative Jena Powell (District 80) plans to introduce a resolution to declare pornography a public health crisis in Ohio. EIE recently reached out to the Rep. Powell in support of her efforts to include Ohio among 13 other states who have already passed similar resolutions in an effort to recognize pornography’s harmful effects on individuals and society, and declare the need for education, research, prevention, and policy change, along with the enforcement of federal obscenity laws. Here’s what she had to say:|
Why is it important to declare pornography a public health crisis in the state of Ohio?
It is critical to declare pornography a public health crisis in the state of Ohio because we need to bring awareness to the pervasiveness of this addiction in our communities. We live in a time of a pornography epidemic, where young children are exposed and addicted to pornography thus causing a myriad of problematic sexual activity, low self-esteem, contributing to emotional and physical illnesses, negatively impacting brain development, etc.
Ohio is ranked as the fourth worst state in the United States for human sex trafficking. Pornography encourages the devaluation of individuals, women, men, and children, and correlates in an increased demand for sex trafficking, prostitution, and child sexual abuse. This resolution will declare that we encourage families, churches, and businesses on a local level to promote education, prevention, research, and policy changes to confront the proliferation of pornography and human trafficking.
What are the chances of this proposed resolution passing in Ohio?
This is a very bipartisan resolution that helps individuals in the state of Ohio thrive. With the support we’ve already received, we believe that this resolution will not be set aside but will receive the attention and care that it deserves as we highlight the correlations between child pornography, human sex trafficking, and mistreatment of men, women, and children.
Why are you interested in personally taking this on in your state, especially in your first term as representative of Ohio’s 80th District?
Families are the foundation of our society, and strong families are crucial to human flourishing. I want to see the 80th district and the state of Ohio flourish, and the crime of human sex trafficking and abuse of individuals end. Fighting to bring the evils of pornography into the light is a huge step towards eradicating human trafficking and sexual abuse in our communities. Our district is not far from the highway 70/75 interchange, which is a hotbed for sex trafficking in our state. We cannot turn a blind eye to the injustice happening in our backyard.
What advice would you give to other state leaders who might be considering proposing similar resolutions?
It is common sense that pornography be declared a public health crisis. If we want to see humanity flourish, we have to have a safe society where people can thrive. Pornography has an array of negative effects that hinder society from thriving.
How can Ohio residents show their support for the proposed resolution?
At the end of the day, fighting pornography comes down to families, churches, businesses, and nonprofits working together to educate, prevent, and change the pornography epidemic in local communities. Ohio residents don’t have to wait for this resolution to pass to start encouraging one another to avoid the harm of pornography and promote internet safety amongst their communities.
The idea of stalking is something no parent wants to consider, but something all parents should monitor. Cyberstalking is a malicious act used to harass, threaten, or follow a single individual online. Some gain access through vulnerable devices, Internet activity, or accounts; most stalkers seek to blackmail victims and exploit them for their personal information. This blackmail can include passwords, private pictures, and other sensitive data that could be used to commitidentity theft.Although some may threaten to sell or leak the information, others may claim to inflict harm if you don’t follow their demands. Therefore, when it comes to protecting your children against cyberstalkers, your best defense is education. Speaking with your children about the dangers of sharing their personal information online, in-person, and through apps is the best way to cover the basics. Having this discussion regularly allows you to stay aware of your child’s online interactions and device security. For more information about identify theft and keeping your child safe online, click here.
We’ve all heard of the physical and verbal bullying happening in schools, but cyberbullying can happen at any time. Criminals target vulnerable children who may be susceptible to regular digital harassment, and use the Internet to bully, share personally identifiable information, or exploit an individual for their information. Although our connected devices, social media accounts, and smartphones are convenient, this 24-hour connectivity makes it difficult for victims to avoid conflict and harassment. If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied, research the signs and symptoms of cyberbullying, then start a conversation with your child and their teachers. For more information and resources on cyberbullying, see Enough Is Enough’s Cyberbullying 101section.
Big Tech is at it again! It’s come to our attention that language surreptitiously and strategically slipped into the NAFTA agreement threatens to derail recent victories achieved on behalf of sex trafficking survivors in both the U.S. and in our neighboring countries of Mexico and Canada!
We need your immediate support in telling your Member of Congress to please make sure this does not happen! Let’s not give immunity once again to greedy website execs looking to profit exponentially by sexually exploiting women and children for profit.
WE NEED YOUR HELP!
Bad Actors Who Knowingly Facilitate Sex Trafficking Could Once Again Get a Free Pass Unless We Do Something Fast!
The implications of U.S. Trade Representative’s inclusion of Section 230-like language into the U.S-Mexico trade agreement could deal a devastating blow to sex trafficking survivors by immunizing the bad actors – the exact opposite outcome for which many have fought so hard to achieve. We simply cannot export sex trafficking immunities to our neighboring countries.
Enough Is Enough is calling on all concerned citizens to contact their Members of Congressand ask to have removed Section 230-like language from the NAFTA agreement.
Contact Your Member of Congress Here
It’s just a quick phone call and we’ve made it very easy to do! You can share exactly what is provided here!
The historic and newly-enacted FOSTA-SESTA which overwhelmingly was passed by the Senate earlier this year and signed into law prevents websites who knowingly facilitate sex trafficking to be shielded from claims filed by child trafficking victims.
We must keep the protections and legislative intent provided under FOSTA-SESTA intact. The inclusion of this language in the trade agreement would be a slap in the face to trafficking survivors, their families, law enforcement and the countless anti-trafficking advocates and organizations who have served to bring a voice to this issue and seek justice.
FOSTA-SESTA fulfills a promise by then-candidate Trump, who in 2016 signed Enough Is Enough’s Children’s Internet Safety Presidential Pledge in which he promised to advance public policies and provide law enforcement with the resources and tools needed to investigate and prosecute Internet crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children. The Pledge called out the need for Congress to amend section 230 of the CDA, which is exactly what FOSTA- SESTA accomplished.
It is evident that the inclusion of Section 230-like language is the tech lobby’s strategy to undermine the provisions of FOSTA-SESTA. The intent of key opposition was clear this past January in a statement saying: “baking Section 230 into NAFTA may be the best opportunity we have to protect it domestically.” Friends, we can’t let this happen!
For the sake of all trafficking survivors and their families, let’s not allow these underhanded attempts thwart the historic progress recently made, nor allow countless others to be victimized because this language was not retracted. We must continue to hold websites accountable for knowingly facilitating trafficking, and allow victims to seek justice. We simply will not stand for any attempt to undermine or threaten the dignity and well-being of our women and children.
A study published earlier that week shows that one in four teenagers report that they’ve received a sext, and one in seven teens have sent a sext. This study, done by the Journal of the American Medical Association, deems sexting as “an emerging, and potentially normal, component of sexual behavior and development.”
Even the Washington Post published an article titled “A guide to safe sexting” merely four years ago. Articles like this one are encouraging young people to sext and make them think that it is becoming more common and accepted by their peers, however, not all of it is consensual. The research states that “12% of people reported that they had forwarded a sext without consent and 8.5% said that a sext of theirs had been forwarded without their consent”. Sending sexts without someone’s permission can lead to criminal charges.
Sexting is not a game as it can lead to serious, long-lasting consequences and that is something teenagers need to understand. Currently, eight states have declared pornography a public health crisis or risk. More states need to jump on board. How can we get the media to stop portraying sexting and pornography as acceptable and healthy parts of life? When will enough be enough?
Judging by the number of emails and phone calls I am getting, around the world there is growing interest in what the UK is doing to reduce the possibility of children being exposed to pornographic web sites.
In particular people want to know what tactics and arguments were used to get the legislation on to the statute book here in Britain.
What follows is therefore a briefing. Please feel free to add to, adapt, modify or abandon any or all of it to suit your local situation. There is no single or “correct” way. The local context will always be paramount. We all have to find our own path.
Kathy Hatem is the Director of Communications for Enough Is Enough, a non-profit organization dedicated to Making the Internet Safer for Children and Families
Last week, schools around the country held numerous events to honor the lives of the 17 people killed at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February. So often after senseless tragedies that unite our nation in a period of grief and mourning, we often found ourselves asking of the good that can possibly come out of such senseless and evil acts, and how the lives of those lost can be honored so that they did not die in vain.
In the aftermath of the shooting, we’ve witnessed the concern written across the faces of our future generations in the aftermath of the shootings as they asked themselves, “How did we get here?” “Why now? “Why us?” We’ve seen thousands of students take part in a 17-minute walk out in solidarity and remembrance of each of the lives lost. We’ve seen students take to the streets and to the halls of their state legislators demanding action.
As a parent of school-aged children, I am encouraged beyond measure to see students rising up to a level which our nation has not seen in decades. Our children are on a mission to be seen, heard, and understood. They want to feel safe and protected, and receive confirmation from those charged with protecting them that their lives are valued and they matter in this world.
When evil is at the root of such darkness our children see and experience day in and day out, I am reminded that it takes an act of God for them to see the potential for any good that can result from the horrific sights and sounds that embed the minds of our young generation.
Apart from school shootings, our children are witnessing or are personally exposed to: the degrading words of a cyberbully that squashes their spirits; dehumanizing acts depicted in unprecedented amounts and access to free, graphic Internet pornography (whether stumbled upon accidentally or viewed intentionally); or, the sexual exploitation resulting from revenge porn or sexts strewn across social media platforms for all to see.
In the most volatile and challenging of times, it is a wonder that our kids can be so resilient and charged to act. At my child’s school, and at schools across the country, random acts of kindness are being encouraged as they honor the lives lost in the Florida shooting. Students are posting kind notes on the lockers of those they’ve never spoken to prior. They are asking the child who often sits alone to join them for lunch. They are picking the kid who always gets chosen last to join their team at recess.
Our kids are so much powerful then we’ve given them credit for, myself included. When they unite, they can move mountains. When I think of the potential impact everyday kindness efforts can have on cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, and on relationships and friendships in general, I am reminded that just perhaps, this is the good that can come out of such tragedy. With this generation leading the way and demanding better from us all, I don’t doubt for a moment that they will ever allow the lives of the 17 killed to be lost in vain.
**Note: You can help spread kindness and combat the online culture of cyberbullying by generating your own “Random Post of Kindness” or “Sweet Tweet” and sharing it on social media with someone you’d like to encourage!
This blog was submitted by guest contributor Scott Reddler
In this digital era with widespread use of smartphones among children, it’s important for you as a parent to take usage monitoring seriously. From cyberbullying, to sexting, to predators, the online environment presents many potential dangers for children. And when you consider that 75% of children under eight make use of mobile devices like smartphones, cell phones, and tablets, you can appreciate the importance of keeping your children safe online.
Of course, you can expect that your children might be resistant to your monitoring efforts, but there are some things you can do to hopefully get them to understand why going this route is a must. What follows are, firstly, some tips to help you talk to your child about smartphone monitoring and, secondly, a look at how to actually go about monitoring usage.
Discuss Digital Safety
You should never assume that your children understand the the full extent of the potential dangerous out there with online predators, cyberbullying, and sexting. Remember that their young minds are still developing, and they will have a harder time than adults when it comes to properly assessing potential consequences for their actions. So before you start monitoring your children’s smartphones, explain to them why this policy is necessary by engaging them in a discussion about digital safety, what it means, and why it’s important.
Listen to Their Concerns
While as the parent you need to make it known that smartphone monitoring is a must, you should also listen to your children’s concerns and validate their feelings. A two-way discussion is more likely to yield the results you want than would a one-way lecture where you simply lay down the law and tell them how it’s going to be. As you listen to their concerns, let them know that you understand where they’re going from and explain why monitoring is necessary.
Draw Up a Contract
Before giving your children smartphones, be sure to create a smartphone contract that covers the following:
School performance requirements that let them know that good grades are a requirement to gain the privilege to use their smartphones; and
Restricted apps that they’re not allowed to download or use.
Let them know that they must sign the contract if they are to be granted access to smartphones — and be sure to list the consequences of violating the contract so that your kids are fully aware.
How to Monitor Usage
Fortunately, parental-control apps are plentiful, so you can browse what’s available to easily monitor your children’s smartphone usage. In order to be fully transparent, let your children know that you’ve taken the liberty to download usage-tracking apps onto their smartphones. When they know that they are being monitored, they’ll be less likely to get into trouble.
Indeed, this digital age, combined with the widespread use of smartphones among children, means that you have to pull out all of the stops to keep your kids safe. They may not fully appreciate the dangers that lurk online, but it’s your job to protect them. And smartphone monitoring is definitely one way to keep them safe.
For more tips on how to talk to your child about smartphone monitoring, check out the following infographic: