Law enforcement, child advocates give parents safety tools for kids’ first phones

Even if kids are savvy with technology, experts say parents need to stay ahead of the technological advancements to keep their children safe while connected to the internet and apps.

Just as in the real world, the digital world that is opened to children through their devices comes with a great deal of danger.

While they’re exploring, connecting with friends online, predators are working hard to connect with them.

Kristin Weis is the co-founder and CEO of The Demand Project, which rescues children out of sex trafficking but also works proactively to prevent them from being exploited or trafficked in the first place.

She warned about the dark side of children having internet access.

“The bad thing about it is you have predators … that don’t have to be on the street corner anymore,” she said. “They can be hiding right there on your kid’s phone. They can walk up the stairs in your own home, get in your daughter or son’s bedroom and be right there chatting with them and you don’t even know it.”

Law enforcement calls this grooming.

Detective Brett Burton works in the Criminal Investigations division on the Broken Arrow Police department.

”They’ll start getting where they’re more apt to talk to them,” he said. “The next thing you know, they’re being asked to ‘Send me some pictures. Send me pictures without clothes.’ That kind of stuff.”

Burton analyzes phones for that kind of activity.

“[A] parent comes across the information on the child’s phone, or the child does come clean and says, ‘I was just on this site and suddenly, this came across,’” he said. “And the child has the wherewithal to contact the parent and at that time, we get contacted. The parent brings the phone in here, we try to do what we can to locate the individual based on their screen name or their handle.”

The goal is to arrest that predator and stop him from grooming more children.

Weis said parents need to be as watchful of their children’s friends online as they are in everyday life.

A new phone opens a new world of independence for kids and allows them to connect with friends.

But the experts say it’s a door to danger.

Weis is arming parents with the tools they need to protect their children.

She teaches parents and children how to ward off predators.

”The scary part of the internet and what happens if you just hand a child a loaded phone and there’s no restrictions whatsoever,” she said. “We teach them what sites to be careful of, how to go through their phone, how to find vault apps, where they can hide pictures and videos and apps that you wouldn’t even know they had on their phone. It’s like a vault on your phone.”

While Weis said she doesn’t want to take technology away from children, she wants to help them make good decisions and identify predators in their activities online.

”We’re teaching them tricks of predators and traffickers and how they’re trying to lure and groom them -- different things they might say, ways they may act,” she said. “One of the main things is so simple to tell your kids but it’s not something that we just know to do: secrecy - secrets. If somebody is talking to you and tells you to keep a secret for them, about them, it’s not a good thing.”

Burton said you can use the parent controls on your child’s phone to limit what they can access.

“From time limits to sites and apps they can use and get notification if they attempt to by-pass that app,” he said. “The main thing is being involved in, looking at your kids’ phone. There’s no beating that type of security.”

Parents’ being involved, he said, are the best protection.

Burton said he examined 215 phones in 2022.  Of those, four contained child pornography, seven contained lewd molestation and four contained rapes. Many of the other phones contained material from unattended deaths, including Fentanyl overdoses.





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