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Dangerous phone apps: how to keep your kids safe

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 11:00 PM EST
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Our phones can be used for so many good things - but they can also be the door to many unpleasant things as well.

ABC12′s Christina Burkhart took a look at some of the applications that could be dangerous for anyone, but that as a parent, you’ll want to pay particular attention to.

Burkhart spoke with a local mom who is taking all of the proper precautions when it comes to her teenage daughter having a phone, plus our local and state police to find out some of the apps that concern them and how you can protect your son or daughter from online predators.

“You never know who’s out there talking to your kid,” said Shelby Badal, who has a teen daughter.

Badal, mom to a 14-year old, laid down ground rules when her daughter first got her phone.

“Just knowing history that I’ve heard about from other parents about kids hiding things, and how they knew to hide things, and knew basically what to do to get away with everything, we wanted to have the rules set from day one,” Badal said. “We set all her passwords, all her passcodes and she could not change them, the phone had to be given to us anytime we asked so that we have full access to it.”

Multiple family members also follow her on social media. Nothing new goes on the phone without her asking first, and Badal’s daughter knows when asked, she has to hand the phone over. Badal keeps phone checks unscheduled.

“Whenever,” said Badal. “It could be that we’re sitting down and watching tv and it’s like, ‘hey can I just see your phone’ and she’ll - ‘here you go’ - or if I question her on something. Something that somebody has commented on or something that she posts that maybe isn’t what it should be at her age, we talk through it.”

What she checks the most?

“Who she’s friends with on different social media platforms, making sure it’s kids from school or the dance studio - nobody that she doesn’t know,” said Badal.

Not knowing who you’re talking to is when it can get scary.

“When it comes to companion relationships, we still go and monitor through our ghost operations - Skip the Games, City X Guides, Tinder, Grinder, but the other apps out there - they may be even more dangerous,” said Genesee County Sheriff, Chris Swanson. “There’s an app called Kik.”

Kik is a free messaging app. You don’t give your number and you talk using usernames.

“Children can talk to people all over the world in private message,” said Michigan State Police Specialist Lieutenant, Liz Rich. “They can be opening up to your home life, who lives at your home, what schools they’re at - what they’re doing is essentially leading them right to your doorstep, or leading them to the schools that they’re at.”

Reddit is another. Many have heard of the website, which groups topics, and also chats, together. Almost anything can be found on it.

“Reddit is so dangerous that people are actually selling photos of themselves in sexually provacative positions and actions, and they’re actually creating revenue from those pictures,” said Swanson. “So individuals, for all intents and purposes, have turned themselves into pornographic production and studio - which is sad because there’s no age restriction on that and you have pedifiles that are circling that site and that app.”

Another to watch for is Seeking Arrangements - a dating app that’s supposed to be for people over eighteen.

“It’s an app that again starts out innocent, but the people that are there are predators and they’re going to seek out those vulnerable people,” Swanson said. “How I always describe it is - they’re literally getting raped online. If that trap happens, and that young person doesn’t have the maturity to make a wise decision, and they get sucked into that trap, and then they’re scared to death to tell somebody, it just continues to spin out of control.”

Which is why it’s so important to keep an eye on your child.

“Where is that child looking at the device, are they using it in the common locations of the family or are they using it in their bedroom at 11-o-clock at night with the door closed,” said Rich.

And check the settings for hidden apps.

“If there’s for example, the calculator app, and there’s several gigabites worth of data in the calculator app, there’s probably something going on there,” Rich said.

“I think people need to know that if they grab a phone at any time, and they do an accountability search so to speak, if that child doesn’t show any signs of concern, then you’re probably doing pretty well,” said Swanson.

Concern is something Badal hasn’t seen once.

“Just knowing that she’s had friends that have been caught talking to older men - people in the state, out of the state - knowing that, even talking to her, she doesn’t even have that desire,” said Badal. “She knows that what her friends do is wrong, so she says “I’m not going to do it, I have no interest to do it, I know the dangers” -that’s what makes me proud.”

Just keep an open relationship.

“It’s not that mom doesn’t trust you, mom just wants to make sure you’re safe,” said Badal. “I just want her to know that she can still make her own decisions, but to be careful. I want her to know that she can come to me, no questions asked about things and be very open, but at the same time, we’re being safe.”

Police agree that keeping an open line of communication is key.

TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram - any app that has messaging can be used without any harm but also be used by the wrong people in the worst ways.

Since new apps pop up constantly, rather than know the names of certain apps, police advise you to know the methods of finding hidden apps.

Look at the size of the app as talked about above, but also look at how much time is being spent on that app. For example, if your teen is spending hours and hours on their e-mail, that may be a disguise covering up a different app.

Additionally, keep yourself educated. Sites like ProtectYoungEyes.com is a good source of information for parents.

The Bark application can also be used to limit how long a child can be on different applications.

And if you think your child may have come across an online predator - “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a national tipline - a cyber tipline,” said Rich. “We would encourage parents to go out there and make a cyber tip if somebody is reaching out to their child with ill intentions, then report them. What we would essentially need is screennames, log in names, any information to be able to track that person. The more information we have on a particular individual, the better chance that we’ll be able to investigate them if they have stepped into that criminal aspect.”

That 24hr hotline number is 1-800-THE-LOST or 1-800-843-5678.

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