Authored by Anne Schmidt, Youth Services Outreach and Prevention Supervisor
Any parent of a teen will tell you that most of the teen’s waking hours are spent on their phones. Phones and social media seem to be the primary way that teens communicate with and about each other. Increasingly they are also the way that teens are making friends that they plan to meet IRL (in real life). There are more and more apps that make meeting people and making new friends even more accessible. Some of these apps for meeting people parents should be aware of are: MeetMe, Tinder, and Omegle. Parents should take the time to learn about these apps and also ask their teens if they are using them. Unfortunately with the increase in these “meeting apps” there is also an increased risk for teens to become victims of sexual predators.
One of the problems with becoming friends with someone online is that it’s almost impossible to verify their identity. While many of these apps say that they have safety precautions in place for users, there are still ways for predators to get around those things and get access to vulnerable teens. According to SocialSafety.org, 33% of all internet-initiated sex crimes involve social networking sites and someone that a teen met on those sites. The site also said that 1 in 7 kids will receive a sexual solicitation online. Parents and teens need to be aware of the dangers of using these sites and what to look for in order to be safe. Here are some ways that teens can protect themselves as they use these apps and sites to meet people (socialsafety.org):
• Remember that people aren’t always who they say they are-remember anyone get be hiding behind a fake profile. The “teen” you are chatting with could be 45.
• Don’t post personal information or revealing pictures in your profile-remember that once you post something online it is no longer in your control, it can end up anywhere. Be careful.
•Report inappropriate behavior to web administrators-if you are feeling threated you should call the police.
•If you think there is a threat to your safety you should call 911-if you are threatened online by a stranger it never hurts to make a report.
• Submit a report to the CyberTipLine-this is service that is provided 24 hours a day to make take reports of abusive behavior towards minor on the internet. Call toll free at 1-800-843-5678.
Parents and teens need to make sure that they are communicating openly about internet and app safety. Socialsafety.org recommends that teens tell their parents what sites and mobiles apps they are using, that they tell their parents why they are using the sites and apps they are using, that they are clear about who they are talking to online and how they are keeping themselves safe.
As a teen it can be difficult to open up to your parents about things, but it’s important that they know what is going on in your life so that they can help you.
Youth Services offers a variety of free services to parents and teens. Visit http://slco.org/youth/or call 385-468-4500 for more information.