Whether it’s due to safety concerns or simply a means for teenagers to keep up with their friends, more and more parents are allowing their children to have smartphones. While some parents may see this as a means of widening the safety net, so to speak, by having the ability to be in constant contact with their children, or even going as far as to install tracking applications in order to know exactly where their child is at every moment of the day, this illusion of safety is just that. These well meaning parents that simply want to keep their children safe, may inadvertently be putting their teens in more danger.
We all understand the potentially tragic implications of texting and driving. A driver, especially a new driver, behind the wheel, who is constantly taking their eyes off the road in order to check their newest facebook messages is a recipe for disaster. Most parents are aware of this very real danger and make sure to give their teens a stern talking to about the hazardous outcomes. Most teens also understand, or have at least discussed, the dangers of predators online. While I don’t believe that all teens take these warnings in vein, many teens and parents alike are unaware of the potential – and I would like to stress the word potential, since not all teens are using their phones to chat with random strangers online – of increasing their chances of being victimized by cunning online predators through their smartphone usage.
What many teens and parents do not realize is that many social networking applications use locator services. This may be seen as a good thing for helicopter parents who feel better knowing their child’s location at all times, however, this same service is making teens particularly vulnerable to being victimized by some scumbag pretending to be a 14-year-old boy. As more teens turn to social media as a means to connect with friends old and new, it doesn’t take long for sexual predators follow suit.
Earlier this year the kik messenger app was pinpointed as the latest means for pedophiles to connect with teens. In Grand Rapids, MI alone, an investigation revealed that dozens of young people were exposed to sexual messages from random strangers and one who was sexually assaulted as a result of meeting a man through the service. A person looking to prey on teens can easily change their age to whatever suits them and add in an attractive profile within the app, giving the illusion that the victim is speaking with someone much younger then they actually are. While some have spoken out about the kik app, it is only one of the many applications teens may use.
In 2013, Whisper, an application for teens to make anonymous confessions, was implicated in the conviction of a number of pedophiles within the state of Washington. Included within the app is an instant messaging service that predators used to reach out to vulnerable targets who appeared to have been struggling with personal issues within their lives. Even more alarming is that the application allows users to browse other users within their area. One young girl was talked into sending nude photos of herself, another was raped after being lured into meeting a man she met through Whisper, and dozens more were sent lewd photos of the perpetrator.
Grindr, a dating application for homosexuals, was also implicated in March of this year, after a man met up with a 13-year-old boy for sex. Unlike it’s straight counterpart, Tinder, the man claimed that Grindr was negligent for not implementing age restrictions for the application. I’ll allow Chris Hanson to sort out the morality in the fact that a grown man should know better than to meet up with underage boys, no matter what the application’s intended use is for, but it is important that parents are aware that teens are using these types of applications to make new friends and attract potential love interests without the foresight to understand the type of dangers that they may be confronted with in doing so.
As parents it’s important to be vigilant in protecting children from perverts online and even more safeguards may be necessary for teens who access the internet via smartphones, as opposed to the family computer, due to locator services, the temptations associated with sending regrettable photos to friends or strangers, and applications designed to help users connect to other users within a specific area. It is ultimately a parent’s decision on whether or not a smartphone is something they want their child to have, but those who choose to allow their teenagers to have smartphones should also stress that the “stranger dangers” are even more prevalent when using one.
Fortunately for parents, there several methods to help prevent sexual predators from getting in touch with their child. Most phones can easily be equipped with parental control features. If the phone already has parental control features integrated into the device, accessing these features depends on the make and model of the phone, but should be documented on the device’s official website. Some applications will also allow parents to completely block out other applications, such as social media applications, outright. Then, of course, there’s also the option of regularly monitoring their online activities, like many parents already do on their home computers. As with anything, it’s important for parents to set boundaries for teens based on their own discretion, and that begins with parents educating themselves on the power of the technology teens and adults alike are using on a daily basis.