MADISON (WKOW) -- It's not easy being a parent. Period. But it's gotten a lot harder with advances in technology. and trying to keep your kids safe from child predators.
Becky Baumeister and her 13-year-old daughter Katrina spend their fair share of time on the posting on Facebook, checking out new apps, and watching YouTube videos. And while Becky is pretty knowledgeable when it comes to technology, it's hard to keep up with a teenager. While she may know sites like YouTube, Instagram and even Snapchat, her daughter is hearing about things like Pinger, Text +, Hot or Not, Chatroulette, and Ask.fm.
But keeping up can keep them safe. When I asked if Katrina had ever been contacted by someone she didn't know over the internet, she replied, "Yes, I've made lots of friends that way."
Might sound scary, especially if you are a parent. But Katrina is a smart girl, and had those friends verify their identities before continuing the friendships. Becky says she doesn't watch over Katrina's shoulder and trusts her daughter to be careful. Still, it doesn't hurt to check up on her. "Every once in a while I'll look at your Tumblr." "Really?" says Katrina. "Oh dear!" "But I've never seen anything that concerned me," says Becky.
I ask Becky is she knows Katrina's passwords. When she says no, Katrina replies, "Good!"
While your child may not like that idea, law enforcement says you should have their passwords. But they suggest make a deal with them. Seal passwords away in an envelope and promise not to open it unless it's an emergency. Remember, child predators are using those same sites, those same apps your kids are in order to meet them.
Matt Joy is a Special Agent in Charge at the Department of Justice and an Internet Crimes Against Children Commander. He says when it comes to where child predators go, it's not certain websites, games or apps you have to watch out for. "It's anywhere and everywhere. Anywhere from the most popular of social networking sites, to games, to XBox or PlayStation, picture sharing apps. It's possibly offender specific. We're seeing a lot more use of mobile technology to victimize children."
One of the best ways to keep your child safe is to check security settings on everything. Most of us use Facebook. If you see the globe next to your posts or your children's posts, that means anyone can see it and the post is public. So change the settings by heading to the arrow on the upper right-hand side, click "settings," click "privacy" and edit it to "friends."
Also, know the ins and outs of your child's device. Does it get the internet? Even if you haven't attached a data plan, kids can use the internet if they're near Wi-Fi.
Which apps did they download or sites do they go to a lot? If you don't approve, block them.
And check to see whether the "location services" is on or off. If it's on, people can tell exactly where your child is posting from. Special Agent Joy says, "Some of these tools, some apps can capture and seek out Twitter and Instagram posts and see who is in your general area. And you can learn a lot about people to see where they are when they are posting these things." So are child predators using these apps to find victims? Joy says, "I think it's important to know it's out there. That technology exists."
Police say you should have a conversation with your kids even if it seems uncomfortable. Josalyn Longley is a deputy with the Dane County Sheriff's Office and runs an online safety program for parents and students. She says, "Kids need to know if they go to some site and see something, they can tell mom or dad about it. If your child is going to disclose something to you, whether they met someone online or they made a mistake and sent a picture, they may come to you and talk to you about it, you need to listen. They're going to screw up and it's better to deal with it now than have them go meet an online predator or have more pictures sent."
Law enforcement says even pictures you think are private, like a text or Snapchat, can end up public. That's why it's important to make sure anything you or your kids tweet, post or send is appropriate. Special Agent Joy says, "People who have access can copy and paste and share and photoshop and do anything. Remember too, those pictures are housed on a server somewhere and what they do with those pics - who knows?"
Another way predators are meeting kids is through video games where you can play a live person. They can chat or message each other now. Special Agent Joy says there are thousands of apps and websites and he learns about a new one or gets a tip on a new one almost daily, so it's important to keep in mind that your child could meet a child predator on any site, game or app.
But the Dane County Sheriff's Office lists these as SOME of the apps you may want to monitor: Snapchat Why teens love it: Allows users to send images and videos to friends with a time limit on how long they can view it, then image is deleted. Sends much faster than standard texts. Why you should monitor it: Snapchat is the number one sexting app on the market and images can be easily recovered; there have also been numerous cases of bullying with the app. Kik Messenger Why teens love it: Super quick instant messaging app with more than 100 million users allows teens to exchange videos, pictures and sketches Why you should monitor it: Teens use it for sexting and bullying. The term sex buddy is being replaced with Kik buddy. Kik does not offer parental controls. It's easy for pedophiles to use because there's no way to authenticate users. The Whisper App Why teens love it: Teen confession app where users are anonymous. Why you should monitor it: Teens have started using it to cyberbully. The app allows users to communicate with other users nearby using GPS location settings. Pedophiles seek out female users. Ask.fm App Why teens love it: One of the hottest social networking sites that is almost exclusively used by teenagers and pre-teens. It's a question and answer site where you can ask anonymous questions. Why you should monitor it: It's led to 4 documented cases of suicide because of intense bullying.Users engage in hyper-bullying by constantly asking inappropriate and derogatory questions. App is not monitored by developers.
The Madison Police Department is putting together a training program for other law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin about how to navigate social media safely. Officers also do presentations for the community and four years ago the department started "Middle School U" for students to learn about cyber safety. Check the links inside this story for more resources from the Madison Police Department and a checklist you can print out to help you keep up with what your children are doing online.
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