According to CNN Health, teens and tweens spend between six to nine hours a day on social media. Some parents read these stats and think “Whew! My kid is normal!” while others read and realize “Wow. I didn’t know it was that much.”
These days, parents and kids alike are often checking their phones or communicating through social media. But some parents may not realize the dangers that lurk behind the small device in their child’s hand. Every parent’s goal is to protect his or her child at all costs. However, when parents equip their children with unrestricted Internet access, they're inviting them into a world where danger waits around every corner.
While most parents think, “But my child won’t be affected by this.” Sorry to inform you, but they very well could be. When we give a child a phone, no matter the age, and allow them to engage in social media, they’re given freedom to connect with strangers across the world.
My earnest prayer from this article is that you are not offended, but encouraged by the reality of the social media realm. The goal of this blog isn’t to scare you, but to remind you that it’s okay to be involved in your child’s Internet life. In fact, you must be involved.
Here are three ways we can better protect our children online.
Know your Child
The sad truth about online predators is that they will get to know your child in ways you could never imagine. Most social media apps come with instant messaging or methods so predators can connect emotionally with a child. Often, when a child posts about having a rough day or is in a fight with parents, they reach out into the social world and connect with the first person that will listen.
Grooming is what predators or human traffickers use as a method to gain trust. Unlike in Liam Neeson’s movie Taken, human trafficking isn’t someone walking up to a child and snatching them. Grooming is when a predator builds a relationship with their target, most of the time from behind a screen.
But watching the signs and knowing your child can prevent this from happening. Are they being secretive? Do they change the screen every time you come near? Are they spending a lot of time online? Are they talking to someone you don’t know?
Know your Children’s Friends
Privacy is important. But knowing whom your children are talking to is vital. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are infiltrating your home and if you don’t know the names of those talking to your kids, they don’t need to know them.
Facebook has a “mutual friend” feature that allows you to see if you have friends in common with another user. When connecting with someone on Facebook, your child might say, “But they know so and so… They’re okay!”
A few years back, a girl in my hometown had connected with a boy because of the above. The boy had a nice car, bought her name-brand clothes, and promised her a bright future. Thankfully, with the intervention of a trained substitute Sunday School teacher, the girl was advised not to take his offer. Later we discovered the boy was a recruiter for a human trafficking ring in Texas.
Moms and Dads, please be involved. It could save a life. If you as a parent do not know the name or person, they have no business having a relationship with your child.
Apps to watch out for
Predators are everywhere. It may be on common sites such as Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. But it might be a video game, Yubo, Whisper, Tik Tok, Secret Calculator, or a number of other apps unknown to you. In this section, we’re going to dive into some not-so-innocent-apps that need to be monitored, or better yet, removed from your child’s phone. A good general rule is if you don’t know about the app, they don’t need to either.
Created in 2011, Snapchat was created as a way for users to send quick pictures that forever disappear. It is an easy way to send nudes or inappropriate pictures, and predators on Snapchat will connect with children and fear no consequences.
Another negative is the location service. The “SnapMap” (unless deactivated) allows users friends to see where they are and how to get to their location.
Disguised as a calculator, the app allows users to create a secret code followed by a percentage sign allowing them to access a secret virtual “vault”. The vault can hide photos, videos, and other media material privately.
Another popular app, TikTok is designed to create, edit, and share 15-second videos. The issue is, with the lack of privacy, predators can follow hashtags and other links to scout out victims. With instant messaging, the predators can slide into the child’s DMs (direct messages) and continue to groom or ask for other types of videos to be produced.
Whisper allows users to share vulnerable information to different communities anonymously. It also has a “nearby” feature and instant messaging feature giving predators the ability to locate the victim based on how close they are to them.
Shared Hope International (SHI) ran a sting with this app, and a researcher posed as a 15 year-old-girl. The researcher was sent a message with sexual content by an adult man within two minutes of opening the app.
Yubo is listed by Apple as an “App to meet new friends!” But in reality, it is a dating app for teenagers. It is commonly known as “Teen Tinder.” The app offers kids the opportunity to swipe right or left if they approve or disapprove of the potential “friend.” Dating apps are predators’ heaven. Through it, they can shop as they look at pictures of the targets and directly talk to them. In most cases, it can lead to conversations that include sexual content or lead towards an actual meeting.
Again, SHI posed an investigation of the app, posing as a 15-year-old girl and within five minutes an adult man asked for sexual images.
Alongside Yubo, it is important to look at every possible dating app. A few are: Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, Tagged, Coffee meets Bagel, SKOUT, and MeetMe. These apps are prime targeting for predators and human traffickers.
Listed as another Social media app, there is no real privacy. Users can send photos, texts, videos, and screenshots. The app allows for sexualized content. One dad wrote Protect Young Eyes and said that within 10 minutes of logging into the app, his child was “Inundated with sexual requests, mostly by men of 19 to 29.”
Christian Louis Lange said, “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.” If you don’t take steps to protect your kids, no one will. It’s time to take control and be your child’s real super-hero. Their life could depend on it.