Do you remember the Cyndi Lauper song from the 80's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"?
The phone rings in the middle of the night ...
My father yells what you gonna do with your life
Well, now of course, the phone never rings, but the text alert sure goes off. It seems that girls haven't changed much in 30+ years - but technology sure has. Back then, a child could only be accessed via their phone if someone already knew the number. Now, without proper parental controls and supervision, anyone can get access to a child that's out to have fun.
Sometime last year, I read an article about kids signing up on various instant messaging apps. Were they trying to connect with friends and family? No, they were simply signing up to have anyone to talk to online. They didn't care whom they came across. At the time, I found this incredulous. I simply couldn't believe that kids were actually doing this and that parents were seemingly unaware.
As the developer of a kid-friendly instant messaging app, I've come to learn the scenario above is not only quite frightening but also true. Every day, I see new accounts setup by what are clearly children. Most of the time, there is no harm done. Since my kids texting app is COPPA (Child Online Privacy Protection Act) compliant, these accounts can't connect to anyone or even send a text message because they are never verified by an adult. However, occasionally even scarier stuff happens.
Occasionally, a young child will manage to get their account verified. They may already illegally have an email account. In some cases, they may have access to their parents' email account and are able to self-verify anything they do online! Once they are verified, they can begin texting within the app.
However, since Kids In Touch is designed for parents to limit whom their accounts connect to, these new kid accounts have no one to text with yet. So, what do these kids do to have fun? They text the "Kids In Touch Support" built into the app.
They just want to have fun
Even complete strangers
Out of all the support texts I've received in the app from an apparent child, I would guess 90% of them are from young girls. The messages from these kids range from "Please text me!" to "Do you want to have sex?". Sometimes, the child will text non-stop for several hours before I can shutdown their account. In the worst cases, these kids actually send unsolicited photos of themselves to the support channel.
In most cases, the kids are clearly just innocently looking for someone to text with. However, in a few cases, I've had kids be surprisingly aggressive in the support channel. They persistently try to get personal information or even share personal information. These screenshots from the support channel clearly show young kids sharing in an unsafe manner.
In two instances, I've received photos from very young girls on accounts that were clearly verified by an adult's email address. These email addresses were associated with an adult's work email. So, either their parents casually allowed their kids to access an app or the kids had access to their parent's email accounts or business computers. I tried contacting these parents directly to warn them about their children's inappropriate sharing. Unfortunately, the parents never responded. Either their kids deleted these messages or the parents were so uninvolved in their kids online lives that they simply didn't care.
Can you imagine the danger the girls above are in right now? If they stumble across someone else online, what are they going to share? How will their parents ever know what those kids are up to? How susceptible are they to being tricked into sexting or meeting a stranger in person after an online encounter?
From one parent to another, you must take action to protect your child online. If you aren't "tech savvy", BECOME TECH SAVVY!. If you aren't limiting your kids bedtime screen time, TUCK IN AND TAKE AWAY!. Only you can prevent your child from becoming prey to a predator on social media!