ST. GEORGE — There are dangerous apps out there that download within seconds, but can expose children to dangers ranging from bullying and unwanted sexual messages, to apps that give strangers a child’s location. Do you know which apps on on your child’s phone?
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 95 percent of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one, with more than half reporting they are online on a “near-constant basis.”
Mobile devices are driving online activity that helps teens connect through social networking and enjoy numerous other benefits, but can also expose them to online dangers.
While there is not a predator lurking behind every app, some apps are more dangerous than others.
One in five teenagers has received an unwanted sexual solicitation online, and 75 percent of teens share personal information online, according to PureSite, a child safety website.
The Iron County Sheriff’s Office has encountered multiple apps that teens are using, Lt. Del Schlosser said. When asked to expound on the topic, his response was simple: “Wow, where do we start with this.”
Parents are the single most important factor when it comes to making safer choices as their children navigate through the myriad mobile apps, he said, but parents need to know what they are dealing with.
“Most teens don’t see the danger lurking out there, so it is up to the parents to monitor their children’s activities,” Schlosser said.
The primary concerns shared by law enforcement officials when it comes to teens and apps involves cyberbullying and the exchange of photos, “particularly of the inappropriate type,” he said, adding that the most commonly used apps in the Iron County area are Snapchat, Whisper and Tumblr.
Deputies commonly hear from teens that sending photos over Snapchat is not risky, because “snaps” are only visible for a few seconds. That doesn’t mean they disappear completely, and those images can be circulating out there.
“Those photos or chats have to go through a server somewhere, which means they’re stored somewhere,” Schlosser said.
Another concern is that a majority of the online activity occurs on a cellphone, but parents don’t want to go through their child’s phone, which he countered by stressing that it is the parent who owns the phone, and they have every right to monitor what their kids are doing with it
“There’s no reason that a parent shouldn’t be looking at their kid’s phone – no reason whatsoever,” Schlosser said.
Christine Nelson, program manager for the Stabilization And Mobile Response Team, SMART, a program within the Southwest Behavioral Health Center that focuses on children and families in crisis, agreed.
“It’s the parents’ job to protect their children online and to know what’s out there,” she said.
Nelson’s comments are supported by the research.
Nearly 75 percent of teens rely on their parents and other adults for information about protecting themselves online, according to data compiled by Growing Wireless.
Part of that involves a parent setting rules that include realistic consequences, particularly when it comes to cellphone use. Parents have a lot more power than they realize, Nelson said, adding, “and setting rules gives them their power back.”
Some may believe that searching a teen’s room or looking through their phone is a violation of the child’s privacy, which Nelson said is not true.
“Children really don’t have a right to privacy, and parents have an obligation to make sure they know what their kids are doing.”
Schlosser said that parents will say they don’t monitor their teens’ online activity for fear it will appear as though they don’t trust their own kids, but that has nothing to do with that.
“It’s not about the trust, or the kids. It’s about who these teens are associating with – that’s where the danger comes in.”
Another inherent danger that some parents may not be aware of involves apps developed to hide apps, so when a parent checks their child’s cellphone everything appears safe, when it is not.
One such app, “Poof” was developed to hide other apps by selecting which apps the user would like to “disappear” and their icons will no longer be visible on the smartphone screen.
Law enforcement officials are concerned about cyberbullying, which is any activity that involves sending, posting or sharing negative, false or harmful content about someone else. It can include sharing personal information with the intent to embarrass or humiliate someone. The harmful activity is on the rise, Nelson said.
Mobile devices provide continuous communication, 24 hours a day, which leaves no relief to children being bullied, and the posts or comments are public, permanent and take place silently, making it difficult to recognize.
A 2016 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 16 percent of high school students were bullied electronically in the 12 months prior to the survey, which means that more than 10,000 of the 65,000 Utah teens ages 14-17 are likely targets of cyberbullying.
The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:
- Social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
- Text messages sent through devices.
- Instant messages via devices, email provider services, apps and social media messaging features.
One app developed with online bullying in mind, Surfie, can help parents protect their children by sending alerts to the parent’s phone whenever messages that contain tagged keywords, such as “don’t tell” or “you’re dumb,” are sent to the youth’s phone.
The St. George Police Department took a slightly different approach to the question of dangerous apps for kids, recommending that parents focus more on internet monitoring as opposed to specific apps, which are ever-changing, public information officer Lona Trombley said.
“Even an update to an existing app can present possible safety concerns for our children.”
Consistent monitoring, combined with security software that includes age and content-restricted controls, can increase the child’s safety while online, controls that can’t be accessed or modified without a password.
Another helpful tool, Trombley said, is software that requires a child to send a “permission request” to the parent’s phone before they can download any media apps.
Qustodio is a program that can restrict content as well as the amount of time kids are spending online and offers parents 29 filter categories to block access to any site with that type of content, including pornography, violence, weapons and drugs.
When downloaded onto a cellphone it allows parents to see and block any messages sent as well as disable texting capabilities, has tracking capabilities and comes with a “panic button” if a child finds himself in a dangerous situation. Once activated, the program sends a text message to the parent showing the child’s exact location.
Setting consistent guidelines for teens for online activity is also important, Trombley said, as well as talking with them about the consequences, which will encourage them to “stick to the rules.”
The most important thing is to be involved.
“Know what your children are searching for, know what they are using and who they are talking to,” she said.
Nine dangerous apps for teens
- Snapchat is a mobile messaging application used to share photos, videos, text and drawings that disappear from the recipient’s phone after a few seconds.
- Poof was developed to hide other apps on a cellphone by selecting which apps the user would like to “disappear” and their icons will no longer be visible on the smartphone screen.
- Whisper is an anonymous social networking app where users post confessions and chat by superimposing text on a picture.
- Tinder is a popular dating app where kids have been known to create fake accounts and falsify their age and other personal information.
- Kik is a popular app-based texting service that allows texts/pictures to be sent without being logged in the phone history, while offering anonymous and group chats.
- WhatsApp is an alternative to Facebook’s messaging app or texting, where users exchange unlimited text, audio, photo and video messages over the internet.
- Ask.fm is an anonymous question and answer service that can contain sexual, abusive and bullying content that is posted unchecked.
- Down is an app connected to Facebook that states “it’s the secret way to get down with people nearby.”
- MeetMe, with more than 190 million users, has been labeled as “one of the most dangerous apps available to teens.”
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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.