LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Kids love being online and access has never been easier. In fact, a new federal study shows 95% of American children use the internet every day through a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Unfortunately, when unsupervised the web can be a dangerous place, exposing our kids to inappropriate material and predators.
“We have a never-ending supply of work here in Michigan unfortunately,” says Sargeant Thomas Gladney, who works with the computer crimes unit for the Michigan State Police. His mission is to respond to children being exploited online, and sadly, he sees it all the time.
“Predators will watch the media the kids are consuming nowadays to be able to speak on their level and understand what they have going on in their lives. In talking with these kids, they present themselves as an adult or as a child and they are able to keep up with a conversation and make the kids believe they are their friend.”
Sargeant Gladney says the biggest problem, once a creeper earns that trust, is a kid unveiling way too much personal information like where they go to school, their phone number, and even their address. Plus, many games like Roblux and Minecraft have in-game chat where conversations quickly vanish and can’t be checked by mom and dad.
“With stuff like that,” says Sgt. Gladney, “It’s live and there isn’t a record of that conversation anywhere.”
But parents, you have tools at your fingertips right now to shield your kids and give you some peace of mind. Parental controls found on all major online operating systems allow you to block access to certain websites, plus limit your child’s exposure to inappropriate content like mature games or pornography. To keep tabs on your kid’s phones, you can download certain apps to monitor text messages, emails, social networks, and other mobile functions. In addition, most social media apps let you disable features that could pose risks for kids — like turning off chat, restricting conversations to friends only, and hiding your child’s profile so that it won’t show up in search results. The most important thing though, according to Sgt. Gladney is to have a heart-to-heart talk with your kids because trusting them sounds great… but in reality, you must also verify.
“Parents need to have that conversation with your kids to make them aware of what’s going on out in the world and try to teach them to be responsible. Kids make mistakes and so sometimes you need to verify that they are not having those inappropriate conversations.”