Cell Phones are simply “mini” computers which without the proper safe guards, open your child up to the world. Unfortunately when we talk about keeping kids safe online, we often overlook cell phones and the texting.
Most cell phones come with a texting function, however teens have started to download free texting apps, opening themselves up to potential danger. Recently a mom in Colorado learned that her daughter was being victimized through a texting app, called TextFree. “I’m scrolling through this and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, who is this?,'” said the mother, who asked not to be identified. “They were asking her detailed questions like, What do you like to do? Where do you live? What school do you go to?” she said. “Then he says, ‘Oh, send me another picture. But this time, make it one of– very explicit.’ He’s asking for sexual pictures.”
Although parents are monitoring their child’s cell phone records and texts, they will miss activities taking place through apps unless they conduct further investigation. Parent’s are encouraged to audit their child’s apps and look for texting services and anything downloaded which may be questionable. Some of the most popular free texting apps are TextNow, TextForFree, TextPlus, and Txt2Day. Some of the apps allow children to chat with people they don’t know, allow users to contact other users without permission, and hide texts.
I encourage parents to periodically conduct an “app” check. If you find a texting app, ask your child why they need a texting service other than the one provided by the phone carrier. A rule of thumb is to review all apps and ask your child why they need them, how they use them, and have them show you. You may also want to set rules and set expectations around downloading apps. In our home, our daughter must ask before downloading “anything.”
Lastly, kids must understand the consequences and danger of talking with strangers online, sending inappropriate photos and sharing too much information.
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