Mobile Magic or Download Danger? How Apps Can Put Your Kids At Risk
“There’s an app for that.” Technology has become an integral part of our day-to-day life. We use it to make purchases, stay connected with loved ones, and even do work. While digital devices aren’t bad for you or your child on the surface, how they are used can be problematic if not monitored carefully.
Apps make our lives easier, more fun and help us connect with people who matter to us. Downloading an app is something you do without a second thought when but there’s reason to pause. The app that seems convenient for you might also be a convenient entry point into your home and your child’s life for a child predator.
An app is developed on the basis of “Can we do this?” and never “Should we do this?”.
Is it “app”ropriate? Digital Health Check
Having a discussion with your family about which apps they’re using and what features they have will help you carry out a “health check” to the security of your home. One of the many ways to protect your child is by reviewing their apps with age appropriateness in mind. For example, you might consider one app is fine for a 16 year old but not for a 12 year old.
What app developers don’t want you to know is that they have no safety standards they need to meet. That lack of accountability can make software unsafe. Risky apps have 8 things in common that make them prime vehicles for predators to access your child.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT – 8 Ways Apps Can Harm Kids
- Safety… last? They are never designed with safety in mind, there’s currently no law which requires it. Without legal restrictions, we need to use parental discretion to keep our kids safe.
- Age is just a number. The reality is that apps often do not have effective age restrictions. You can change your age and get access to age inappropriate content easily. A predator can, and does, do the same thing to access children online.
- Hiding in plain sight. Apps that do not require those using them to identify themselves let people who want to groom children move unchecked since they’re anonymous.
- Stranger Danger. Apps can allow strangers, some of whom have been previously arrested for child abuse, to enter your home, via your child’s device.
- Too Close for Comfort. These apps allow for private (or direct) messages. Often this will quickly involve a predator sending a picture of their erect penis to your child.
- Now you see it, now you don’t. The messages, photos or videos sent between users have a “self destruct” feature. This can let inappropriate content slip through the cracks.
- Looking for love in the wrong place. ANY dating app poses a risk to your kids because they encourage relationships and connections with people who don’t have your child’s interests at heart. “Teen dating”? What do you think that is for a predator with an illegal sexual interest in children? It’s an invitation to say you’re 14 when you’re 42 (see #2).
- Experiments gone wrong. They allow, or even actively facilitate, your children trying out risky behavior with strangers right now, today.
If an app has any of those features, it’s worth considering deleting it for safety reasons. Letting a stranger have access to your child unmonitored is just too risky.
Pulling the Plug on Strangers
When they are playing games online with people they do not know, children may think that these strangers are their friends. The truth is so much more concerning. Here’s a great way to explain how your child can know someone is a stranger:
- You haven’t met in person
- You don’t know their real name
- You don’t have their phone number (not that they should ever share their own!)
- You wouldn’t be able to tell your mom or dad who they are or where they are in real life.
The Dangers of Hide and Go Speak
One of the most popular forms of social media are instant messaging apps and chat rooms, where users can communicate with one another through text messages. These platforms have been criticized for being potentially dangerous, with KIK being a prime example.
Discord is another app that has come under fire as it allows users to play alongside online games like Roblox without any kind of supervision or safety measures in place to protect them from predators. In reality, private chats with strangers is where grooming starts.
Casual conversation about common interest creates a sense of familiarity that can cause a child to let their guard down. Because that form of communication is so common in our lives these days, you might not give it a second thought but a real danger exists.
When in doubt, search it out.
If you have questions about your child’s technology use, Google can be your friend. Find credible information sources that talk about the risk of the app your child is using. You can filter harmless fun from real risk by searching the name of the app with the search terms “pedophile” and “arrest”.
Once you know if an app has been used to lure children in the past, you can decide if it’s actually safe or a virtual tunnel for a dangerous predator to access your kid’s bedroom. Knowledge is power and as the parent, you have power to hit “delete” on danger.
Plenty of Apps in The Sea
As of 2016, there were over 2 million apps available for download in the app store. Many of these are designed to entertain, keep you informed, or enhance your life in some way. There are also many that can be used by predators as a means to lure and exploit unsuspecting children.
If the apps you’re using aren’t safe, it’s worth looking into alternatives. Your digital download shouldn’t be a welcome mat for strangers who have bad intentions. Technology is handy for us, but it’s important to be mindful of how it’s also handy to predators. You wouldn’t let just any stranger walk off the street and hang out with your kid’s bedroom, but when you download an app with “the hateful 8” that’s exactly what can happen.
Remember, there’s currently no law which is effective in protecting children online, it’s up to us.
For more information on Child Rescue Coalition and how to keep kids safe online, visit www.childrescuecoalition.org. And read more posts like this on our education page.
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