Kids across the nation are getting ready to head back to school. As they do, many of them will be taking with them cell phones and lap-tops--some for the first time ever. And because of this, law enforcement officials, both on a national and local level, want to remind parents of the importance of teaching kids about how to use these new tools safely. They also want to warn parents about the hidden dangers some of the newer apps could pose to children.

Last week, NewsCenter Maine aired a national story about the Sarisota County Sheriff's Department releasing a list of apps parents should look out for, in the wake of the arrest of several individuals who were busted in an online predator ring. In the story, NewsCenter listed these apps and the reasons why they should be of concern to parents. They include MeetMe, WhatsApp, Bumble, Live.Me, Ask.FM, Grindr, TikTok, Snapchat, Holla, Calculator+, Skout, Badoo, Kik, Whisper and Hot or Not. 

That got me thinking about what local law enforcement officers, here in the Bangor area, have been seeing as trends, when it comes to problems with our Maine kids and threats online. Penobscot County Sheriff's Deputy, Andrew Whitehouse, said "Parents should be aware of Snap Chat, Instagram and Whats App. These are probably the most used apps by children." He says if you think your child might be mixed up with something they shouldn't be online, watch how they act, and then take action, yourself. "I have always believed that changes in a child's behavior, suddenly becoming more withdrawn, angry or secretive are huge warning signs. Also don't be afraid to cut off or limit internet service during night time hours."

Whitehouse says there are some simple things parents can do to help keep their kids safer in online situations. "Parents should always use parent control apps. Most of the major carries offer some type of app that parents can use to monitor activity on their children's phone and computer. If this is not an option then parents should always have access to their children's phone, i.e their passwords or fingerprint. I would always recommend talking to their children about cyber stalking and not accepting friend requests from friend of friends. Parents should occasionally check friend lists and if they don't know a friend ask their child about it."

And Whitehouse says if you need help starting the conversation, there are videos, like the one Coby Persin produced on YouTube, that show just how real the threat of using these Apps unchecked can be to children...Even if the parents think their kids would never fall for the traps of a predator. "Its Scary to think about, however its a great conversation starter."

As a parent, I'll tell you it was hard to watch the video, but I made sure, after I had checked it out, that I watched it again with my kids, because I think Whitehouse is right, it effectively demonstrates, in a controlled way, what the potential consequences could be, and starts the dialogue about the topic of internet, cell-phone and social media safety.

 

And in this day and age, where there's a selfie or photo taken every second of every day, it's also important to tell kids that once they take a photo and send it to someone, they have given up all control as to who can see that photo, share the photo, or use the photo against them. In other words, if you don't want the world to see it, don't send it, and better yet, don't take it!

Also, remember this: just because you talk about or say it once, doesn't mean they're gonna get it. How many times do you have to ask them to clear their plates or clean their room? If you have to repeat yourself about those simple things, you're going to want to repeat the important ones even more.

If you have a question about what something is online, or what a certain app does, don't be afraid to ask. Ask a friend, look it up online. Call law enforcement directly if you have real concerns. Yes, technology is every evolving and hard to keep on top of. But don't let keep you from helping keep your kids safe!

Good luck out there!