MADISON, Wis. — There are 3.6 million apps on Google Play alone as of 2018. Madison Police Sergeant Julie Johnson said giving your child a phone gives them a full range of access to the internet, where no app can really be considered safe.
“I want to caution you that any app a child has access to and can download, someone can access them through that app,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s specifically for adults or dating. Kids can get in there and predators will find them on those apps.”
Johnson said installing some form of parental controls on your child’s phone helps. Johnson recommends the parental controls be a little stricter the younger your children are, and as they get older and become more educated on the consequences of sharing private information online, the parental controls can relax a little more.
Johnson said knowing your child’s passwords is key. Johnson said not to think of this as spying on your kids or overstepping any boundaries with them, but doing your job as a parent to protect them by monitoring their activity from time to time.
“It’s OK to know your child’s password. You’re not their friend, you’re their parent,” Johnson said. “You need to know their password. There should be no hidden passwords. The older child, say they’re getting towards high school age, hopefully you’ve had these conversations with them and you can trust them more. They’re going to be a little smarter about what they share online. But we do still have 15,16 and 17-year-olds that are victimized.”
Johnson said if you ever find that your child is a victim of a predator online or through an app, don’t get mad at your child, don’t delete the app or messages. Johnson said take it to police, so they can investigate and figure out who the other person on the other end is.
Johnson said monitoring your child’s phone is particularly important because many kids are finding new ways to hide things on their phones through secret apps.
Johnson said, “There are secret apps that are purposely meant to hide from prying eyes that don’t look like a secret app. They look like a calculator. There’s several of those out on the market that parents should be aware of. If their child has more than one calculator app, that might be a clue that there’s something they’re trying to hide from you and you might want to check that out.”
Johnson said she is constantly seeing new cases where kids are using apps that she’s never heard of to talk with strangers or share private messages or photos. Johnson said when one case is closed, another new app is out there available to use for the same purpose.
Johnson mentioned, however, it’s not just new apps that are the problem. She said she’s seen cases of child pornography being shared on Pinterest.
Many children, according to Johnson, don’t feel victimized in the traditional “dark alley” sort of way. Johnson said that because this is happening often in the safety of their homes and through a screen, many kids think they’re safe.
For more information on parental controls or how to monitor what your child may be downloading, visit this website. The Madison Police also have a list of resources available.
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