Parent Power: Six apps you need to be aware of and the dangers t - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Parent Power: Six apps you need to be aware of and the dangers they pose to your kids

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KHQ.COM - There are more than 1.5 million apps available in your app store and app developers are submitting more than 1,000 new apps every day. It can overwhelming to keep up with the latest and greatest social app, but there's one group that doesn't miss a beat when it comes to the app of the hour that everyone is using  and that's our kids.

But even if you try and keep up with your kids and how their using their smartphone and all the different social platforms, do you really know what's going on? The practice of sexting is now thought to be more common among pre-teens and teens, than among adults. Just this week a Colorado high school football team was forced to forfeit the final game of their season after nearly half of the players were caught in a widespread sexting scandal involving hundreds of students in Canon City, Colorado.

Also this week, two students at a Long Island high school in New York were arrested and 20 others were suspended, including some students from a nearby middle school after a sexting scandal was unveiled. The scandal involved cellphone video that allegedly spread among students showing a sexual encounter between a 14-year-old boy and an underage girl. The video was allegedly shot by another 14-year-old boy and filmed off-campus.  Both boys, whose names are not being released because they are underage, were arrested and charged with promoting a sexual performance by a child and disseminating indecent material to minors.

In case you need another recent example, back in May of this year three 13-year-old middle school students were charged with exchanging sexually explicit images with others.

The criminal charges students face when sexting is probably the last thing on their mind, but I spoke with Spokane County Sheriff Detective Chuck Haley and he confirmed that yes, even just asking for a nude photograph, "just for asking is considered communication with a minor for immoral purposes and that can make you a registered sex offender for 10, 15 years or longer, even if the person requesting the photo is a minor themselves."

Detective Haley knows exactly how common sexting is becoming in our schools. He often talks to middle school and high school students about the dangers of social media and how to use social apps responsibly. At every assembly, he opens by telling the students, "I guarantee, right now, someone in this room has been asked for an inappropriate picture." He follows that statement with this: "I guarantee, right now, someone in this room has requested that inappropriate photo." After each statement, Detective Haley will pause and observe the students because their social cues - the pointing, giggling, whispering - gives away every time which students are already involved with sexting.

But what's dangerous about sexting isn't just a modesty issue. It's one thing when a child is sending the photo to a classmate they know, and yes that can lead to a whole bunch of other issues - like the photo getting spread around to a student's peer group, causing public humiliation - but what's even scarier is when the photo is being sent to someone the child doesn't even know.

In a world where confidence is often ranked by the number of friends, followers or "likes" a child has on various social apps, many kids today are friends with and communicate with people they don't even know. This can get very dangerous because sexual predators are present on all social media platforms, trying to lure and groom the vulnerable, with an end goal of meeting them in public.

So what can we do as parents to make sure our teens use social apps responsibly? I spoke with University High School counselor, Kara Twining and she insisted that the answer doesn't lie in completely banning our children from using social media. This is only operating from a place of fear and the reality is that our kids are going to find a way to use social media whether they have a smartphone or not.

Twining said as parents we need to empower and educate ourselves and take responsibility to parent our kids in the digital world just like we do in the "real" world. The worst mistake a parent can make is to completely ignore social media and pretend it doesn't exist. Twining says she's had a lot of parents tell her, "oh, I'm not on it, I don't want to know anything about social media." Again, this is the a huge mistake.

Twining really suggests starting your kids on a tech device at a young age and having a conversation from the start. "An 11-year-old is still going to want to listen to you. They're going to follow your direction and lead. So you start them on an app and you have a conversation about it. You teach them how to post. You teach them what's appropriate to post. You share the information every day and sit down and say, what happened on this app? What did you see? What did you learn? Show them how to do privacy settings. Show them how to check who people are. Show them who they can accept as friends and who they can't."

If we start talking to our kids at young, impressionable ages, just like we talk to them about stranger danger, they will grow up with responsible social media use ingrained in them. If we wait until our child is 16 and gets caught up in something bad to have a conversation, they aren't going to want to listen to us.

Here are two sites that give parental reviews on all the apps your child may be using: www.CommonsenseMedia.org and www.Fosi.org.

While there are dozens of popular social apps, here are the six apps we've identified as the ones you need to be aware of as a parent and why:

App #1 - Secret Apps

There are several different secret apps that allow people to hide photos, videos, other apps and even text messages on their phone. One of those apps is a secret calculator. To everyone outside, this app look and functions like a calculator, but enter the right code and a secret vault of hidden files is unlocked.

App #2  - Snapchat

With over 100 million downloads, this it the app everyone is using. Teens are crazy for Snapchat. It's fun and silly and no one else is supposed to be able to see what's being sent and received because in theory, photos and videos are supposed to self-destruct in a few seconds. This function make the app the most popular app for sexting. However, files can easily be recovered or screenshot and saved forever. Hundreds of thousands of nude photos sent on Snapchat have been leaked online.
While you can't stop your teen from sending or receiving pictures on the app, you can install monitoring software on their phone for about 40 dollars a month if you feel it's necessary.

App #3 - Kik

This is an instant messaging app that also has over 100 million downloads.  Users can send photos, videos, YouTube links, even create their own memes. This is another app that's popular for sexting… and so much more.   
It's dangerous because users can change their personal information to be whoever they want, including any age. So this app is like a candy store for sexual predators. So much so that a sex offender in Michigan contacted his local news station to warn them about the app. There are also no parental controls and no way to verify users, so your child could be talking to anyone.
 

App #4 - Ask.FM

Ask.FM is the perfect platform to bully anonymously because it gives users the option to remain unnamed. The app basically allows people to ask questions but those questions are often derogatory and target a specific person. At least seven teen suicides have been connected to this app and at one point, the company that owns the app actually considered shutting it down because comments and bullying was getting so out of control. Instead though, they have upped safety measures, giving information on what to do if a user feels like they are a victim of cuber bullying, even warning users that if comments get out of line, the person making those comments will be turned in to law enforcement.
 

App #5 - Whisper

This is another anonymous app and it's mainly used as a confessional. Users can put their deepest thoughts and secrets in text over photos.
But this app lets sexual predators easily locate kids in their area because of a GPS locating function on the app. A user can select to view nearby comments from 50 miles away, all the way down to comments only made within one mile of their location. It's very easy then for sexual predators to comment on posts in their area and try to establish a relationship with that person. In 2012, a man in Seattle was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl he met on Whisper and the same thing happened to a 16-year-old girl in Pennsylvania in 2014.


App #6 - Facebook

We put Facebook on here because it still remains the most popular social networking site with more than 1 billion downloads. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the default settings on Facebook make a users information and photos public and also allow anyone in the world to send them a friend request or message.  Make sure to change the privacy settings in a way you feel they are appropriate for your child. Facebook can also be used for bullying and sexting and sexual predators can pretend to be anyone on this social platform as well. It's very easy to create a fake Facebook account and that means your child can create a fake account too that you may not even know about.

If you would like to get information on monitoring software you can install on your child's phone without them knowing, here are a few choices and reviews: 
http://cell-phone-monitoring-software-review.toptenreviews.com/

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