Forget Facebook or Twitter. More and more kids are checking in on social media apps and sites where users are anonymous, and police in the Seattle area say one of those cellphone apps led to the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl in 2013.
From Fox 13 News in Seattle:
“Every single day a new app comes out on a phone and as parents we really need to be involved,” Lake Forest Park Police Chief Stephen Sutton said. “That was the cause of this.”
Adults may not have heard of many of the apps, but teens are increasingly using sites and apps like Ask.fm, Spraffl or Whisper, where they can remain anonymous and post secrets about themselves.
“Facebook is barely used anymore,” Leen, a junior at Shorecrest High School, said. “Because when you say something, you actually know who’s saying it.”
In the case of the 12-year-old, police said she was communicating with 21-year-old Ron Peterson via the app, Whisper. The app allows users to reveal secrets while staying secret, but there is also the option to see if other users are nearby and chat with them. In their conversations, the girl lied to Peterson and told him she was older.
Peterson told detectives he found the girl on the app, and eventually convinced her to climb out of her window at home and take off with him. He took her to a nearby motel where he told police he had sex with her.
The incident happened in early September and Peterson was held on suspicion of child rape. He was charged Wednesday with luring and communication with a minor for immoral purposes. He has no prior criminal convictions.
The bad guy isn’t at the school bus stop or hanging around your neighborhood playground anymore. They’re creeping into our children’s lives on their devices, and they’re doing this because we as parents are not being intentional, uncompromising, and relentless about our child’s safety in the digital landscape.
New apps are constantly being created to take advantage of the illusion of privacy. It’s extremely important to monitor what your child downloads. Always know their App Store password. Here are some dangerous apps to be aware of, some new, some not.
Whisper – This app allows you to post secrets anonymously and also allows you to chat with other users in your geographic area.
Why It’s Dangerous: Many children are drawn to communicating with strangers, feeling that their secrets are safer with them than with their friends or parents. This app is a perfect tool for ill-intentioned strangers looking to connect with young people because it allows you to exchange messages with people nearest to you (so anonymity can be easily lost).
Snapchat – Snapchat is the original “private” messaging service – you can send a picture or video with a text message attached and only allow them to see if for a few seconds, and then it’s gone. Snapchat would like for you to believe that the photo or video is deleted, but that’s not always the case. (Similar apps: Poke, Wire, and Wickr)
Why It’s Dangerous – Kids can receive (or send) sexually inappropriate photos. This app also makes kids feel like they can “sext” or send inappropriate pictures without consequences because the image will self-destruct automatically. The truth is that nothing sent over the internet disappears. There are always ways to retrieve and capture those images. Any person with the right tools and knowledge can get your information.
Poof – Hides other apps on your phone. You select which apps you would like to hide and their icons will no longer show up on your smartphone screen.
Why It’s Dangerous – If children have apps that they want to keep hidden from their parents, all they have to do is download this app and “poof,” their screen is clear of any questionable apps. So, if you see the poof app on their phone, you may want to ask them what they are hiding.
YikYak – All Yik Yak users are anonymous. They don’t create a profile or account, but they can post comments that are accessible to the nearest 500 people (within a 1–5 mile radius). A psychiatrist called this the most dangerous app he’d ever seen because it “can turn a school into a virtual chat room where everyone can post his or her comments, anonymously. Untruthful, mean, character-assassinating short messages are immediately seen by all users in a specific geographic area.”
Why It’s Dangerous: This app is causing problems in schools across the United States, with students maliciously slandering teacher, staff, and other students. In fact, several schools have now banned smart phones from campus because of this particular app.
Kik Messenger – A free app-based alternative texting service that allows texts/pictures to be sent without being logged in the phone history. (Similar apps: Viber, WhatsApp)
Why It’s Dangerous – Makes it easier for your child to talk to strangers without your knowledge since it bypasses the wireless providers’ short message services (SMS). Children also think they can “sext” without parents finding out. In addition, strangers can send your child a “friend request.”
Tinder – Users post pictures and scroll through the images of other users. When they think someone is attractive they can “flag” the image. If that person has also “flagged” them in return, the app allows you to contact them.
Why It’s Dangerous – This app, and similar apps such as Down, Skout, Pure, and Blendr, are primarily used for hooking up.
What Do I Do Now?
Remember, your child’s safety is more important than their privacy. As a parent, you aren’t being nosy by checking their cell phone on a regular basis; you are being responsible. Establish device rules. Make them sign a Parent-Device Contract. Let them know that you’ll be checking up on them – and then actually do it!
Most children do not see the danger of how much information they are putting out there. Make it real for them. Make sure they understand that sharing everything with the world isn’t a good policy.
If you find some questionable apps on your child’s device, it may be a good opportunity for a discussion. Remember, the main reason kids are using these apps are because their friends are. Here are a few conversation starter ideas:
If you have a child that wants to use YikYak, ask: What kind of things would a person want to post anonymously? How would you personally use this app? What would you post anonymously? Why?
If you have a child that wants to use Snapchat, ask: Why do you want to send pictures that disappear? Would you be okay with anyone seeing that pic?
If you have a child that wants to use Whisper, ask: Why would you tell your secrets to strangers? If you are struggling with something, will a stranger care or be able to help you? Do you think it would be safe to accept their help/friendship?
General questions to ask: Are you being safe with that app? Are you encouraging others or tearing them down? Are you being bullied? Are you putting out too much information about yourself? Is this an app that brings God glory?
We as Christian parents are called to instruct their children in biblical wisdom (Deuteronomy 6:6–8) and today that includes teaching them to apply biblical wisdom to media, apps, and devices. Teaching your children how to choose appropriate apps and use them responsibly is vitally important in our social media-driven world.
Internet safety is just like any other kind of safety. Just like we would talk about being careful talking to strangers or being careful while driving, we need to be intentional, uncompromising, and relentless with how we talk about how to behave online. How much information should you share? With whom should you communicate? What should you post?
Psalm 127.1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Are we letting God build our homes (to include discipline with devices) or not? Because if we are not, then it’s all meaningless anyways.
Sign-up to be notified of new posts and products from Start2Finish and get a FREE copy of the award-winning The Epic of God: A Guide to Genesis.