WASHINGTON — Most teenagers, and some kids younger than 10, have smartphones, and the police say that parents should strictly monitor their children’s phone usage for safety risks.
“I tell parents it’s my recommendation that they control the passwords to everything on that phone, including the password to the android or Apple phone itself, the password to any emails, the password to any apps,” said Sgt. Kenneth Sanger of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Special Victims Investigations Division.
Cellphones have been involved in several high-profile cases in the D.C. area in which children were made victims by adult predators.
“There are bad actors out there specifically looking for our children,” said Sanger, who supervises the division’s Exploitation and Registry Section. “Children and teenagers will make mistakes … we have a lot of children victims that are making mistakes by sending inappropriate images or videos out to people they know and to people they don’t know,” he said.
The old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and in the special victims investigations world, Sgt. Sanger said, seemingly innocent pictures on kids’ cellphones might convey too much information. The picture background or a T-shirt the child is wearing could convey the school the child attends, a home address or a favorite hangout.
“Parents should monitor — strictly monitor. They should review the device, go through it, actually in front of the child, or when the child’s asleep, or both,” Sanger said.
Sanger says it’s wise for parents to read their children’s texts, know all of their contacts, review their pictures and check which apps they’re using.
“Parents should know every single contact … know who their (Facebook) Friends list is, know their contacts in Instagram, in Snapchat, in Kik,” Sanger said.
Police express particular concern about the Kik app.
“With Kik — that seems to be where many of our problems occur … Kik is a conduit or an application that the predators are on, in my opinion, because that’s what the kids are on,” Sanger said.
Sanger also offered a warning about the live video streaming service Omegle.
“It’s basically Skype, but you’re live streaming with complete strangers. So it’s a video-based app, and the predator-strangers out there are very good at manipulating children to do things they wouldn’t normally do,” Sanger said.
Sanger points out that smartphones are extremely powerful communications devices that allow kids to reach out to people around the world. Parents, he said, need to know who their kids are communicating with, what they’re saying and what pictures and videos are being exchanged.