On Thanksgiving, a San Antonio man was arrested for having sex with a 16-year-old girl in her grandmother’s basement.
The girl reported to police that she met the man through MocoSpace, a social networking app.
Similar cases have occurred across the U.S. this year — in April, a man from Illinois was charged with sexually abusing a girl for two years. In June, a man in Tampa was arrested for allegedly trying to meet a child for sex.
“Chat now with millions of people nearby or around the world, make new friends, be social, flirt, play games and more, all free,” MocoSpace advertises on Google Play.
Tammy King, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Johnson County, said she believes parents are going to see an avalanche of these types of apps pop up.
“Kids have so many apps that friends may introduce to them or that they hear about on television, radio or websites,” she said. “This, unfortunately, is the language our kids speak. They seem to be attached to technology all the time so we, as caregivers and guardians, have to be diligent in monitoring these things the best we can.”
King said with so many children using the app — MocoSpace has been downloaded by more than 35 million users — parents might wonder how they can protect them from predators.
“Parents need to have honest conversations with their kids about the pros and cons of all these apps,” she said. “They also need to be parents, not buddies, pals or friends.”
King suggests letting children know that their mobile devices are privileges that will be taken away if they are abused.
“Parents should be honest with their kids from the get go and say that they are going to go through their devices once a week,” she said. “Older kids may feel like their privacy is being violated, but if you are honest up front with them so they know, you can alleviate some of those issues with your kids.”
CAC Development Director Kevin Sellers, who spent 30 years working in education, said parents and children don’t communicate as they should.
“Sometimes parents are embarrassed to discuss these topics with their kids,” he said. “They want someone else to educate their kids and it doesn’t always happen. Don’t beat around the bush — be honest and open with them. Sometimes sugar coating doesn’t always work.”
In late 2015, it was reported that teens were spending up to nine hours per day on their smartphones and many parents turned to monitoring software that allowed them to remotely view their kids’ digital activity.
“Kid monitoring software gives parents access to certain information such as their kids’ web browser history, text message, and call logs,” said Rawdon Messenger, CEO of TeenSafe. “Even though parents can see what their kids are doing, monitoring software does not allow them to control how kids use their devices. Therefore, if parents spot a problem while monitoring their digital activity, all they can do is talk to their kids about it and trust that their kids will listen.”
King said parents might struggle with being overprotective with their children.
“My question for parents that struggle with this would be, ‘Wouldn’t you rather be a parent that loves your child enough to be pro-active, rather than one that is taking their child to the police station or hospital because something horrible that could have been prevented has happened?’” she said. “As a parent, my daughter knows that we are going to monitor her devices and I feel like she knows that we are working in her best interest by doing this because we want her to be safe.”
King said it is best to have ongoing conversations with your kids about the reality of the dangers of apps such as MocoSpace.
“As apps and devices change, we have to become more educated,” she said. “I personally hate social media; I value face-to-face conversations with people, but the reality is I have to learn about this so I can keep my child safe.
“It is the way her generation communicates, so we have to put safety checks into place for them. My challenge to parents and caregivers would be to continue educating yourselves on all these apps/devices so you can better protect the children in your lives.”