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A Parent’s Guide to Teen Safety (Mobile and Online)

Welcome Anacortes Middle School parents! If you found this page through the emergency parent meeting at the Anacortes Middle School on Wed, March 27th 2016 where Adrian was brought in as an expert to assist parents with ensuring the safety of their children, we thank you for taking an active role in your child’s well-being. (If you’d like a copy of the handout in PDF form, it’s right here.)

Please Note: The information on this page, while thorough, we will be continuing to add even more details and image examples. In the weeks to follow we will begin working on short video segments that will dive into further detail on specific portions of this very expansive topic. The topic of online safety could easily be a multi-hour presentation. Our aim this evening was to encourage you as a parent to want to learn more. Thank you for coming to this page to do just that! Please check back for updates. We will reference an update by date on the top of the page as we continue to add information. You are welcome to sign up for our e-newsletter and follow up on Social Media Links where we will make those updates publicly available for all.

What we’re here to talk about:
• Brief introduction and thoughts
• How bad is it out there
• What social accounts and apps should be scrutinized
• What is Rooting/Jailbreaking
• What prevention and monitoring options are there
• What’s the worst that can really happen

Intro and thoughts from Adrian
As mentioned at the meeting, this issue is beyond technical. Solutions are going to require open and honest communication with your teens about the dangers of sharing too much information, as well as the legal ramifications that can follow. You need to take a proactive roll in this technology based age we live in. There are limitless ways of sharing data on the internet and you need to be able to identify the different forms of it so you can better monitor what the kids are doing.

Unless you take away their phones and computers, there’s zero way to stop it. Kids are going to be kids and with raging hormones, social media, and young, impressionable brains at work, there’s no stopping it. Though they simply shouldn’t have any need to maintain access to the devices during bedtime, I realize simply taking them away on a nightly basis isn’t realistic. Though I’m a parent, I’m not going to tell you how to be one. My children are younger, but I’ve been working to fight crimes against children for the better part of 2 decades. I’ve been involved in digital forensics for over a decade, assisting with investigations from the local city PD, to the sheriff’s office, to the FBI and international investigations. So even though I’m not quite yet walking in your shoes, I’ve been around the subject far more than most would ever want to. Hopefully my knowledge and experience assists you in protecting your children from the dangers of the internet while allowing them to enjoy everything else it has to offer.

Some great sites with general information are (US), (UK) and Think U Know (UK). The last one is more for teachers, but still good info! (Check out the links across the top.)

Really, how bad is it out there
Teen “sexting” (the art of sending sexually explicit text messages) has been on the rise for a better part of a decade. You can learn some startling statistics from this fairly recent write-up by SelfieCop. It provides great insight into the trends and what is going on out there. Simple and easy to digest. Such statistics reinforce you really SHOULD pay attention to this stuff! Some more in-depth reading can be found in this well thought out article by Current Psychiatry, titled Teens, social media, and ‘sexting’.

What social media and applications to look out for
Social apps are ever-changing as new ones crop up and old ones fade into the ether. Keeping up on them can be a full time job in itself! Luckily, there is help out there. has a number of helpful articles on the subject, including their 2016 App Blacklist, their Parenting Guide to Tech Safety which includes their excellent info graphic named the Digital Parenting Manifesto, which is chocked full of statistics and hard facts.

Below is a current list of apps that should be watched and explored if found on your child’s device(s) as they are known to be “risky.” This is by no means complete! Use your best judgement with these, or anything else you come across. Research them on the appropriate store (Apple, Android, Windows) so you have a better idea what you may be dealing with.

Also remember there are applications specifically designed to hide content in plain sight! Make sure to look through folders for apps, look under the “app drawer” on Android (the 3×3 dot square), and scroll through all the pages of Apple’s iOS for additional applications. Research the installed applications to ensure you’re not dealing with a fake app that may be hiding content. Sharing the same Apple ID or Google Play account with your children is a great way to keep tabs on what is purchased.

Teen sexting appsTeen sexting apps

Instagram: Picture/video sharing app, encourages comments and “likes/shares” of the pictures. Cyber-bullying and inappropriate discussions can be common.
Kik: Instant messenger app. Very popular with children and predators alike.
Snapchat: Picture/video sharing app. Media is sent to “friends” from the app. Media supposedly is deleted immediately but plenty of ways to save them exist.
WhatsApp: Instant messenger app. Not easily monitored or controlled by parental controls and such. Should be monitored manually.
Yik Yak: Anonymous chatting/social app. Text goes out to others locally using it, common for cyber-bullying.
Whisper: Anonymous chatting app. Cases of cyber-bullying have been reported.
Tinder: Dating/Hookup app. Location based “social discovery” and dating platform. Legal for children as young as 13 to sign-up.
Blendr: Dating/Hookup app. Very similar to Tinder, but heavily location-based.
Down: Hookup app. Similar to Tinder/Blendr, encourages casual sexual encounters.
Omegle: Allows anonymous chatting with strangers. Teens can be quick to share private information, thinking they are safe.

Instagram is the current “hot app” among most teens. TeenSafe has an article specific to it that’s a good read. Sarah Brooks also wrote an article a few years ago that went viral and has some good information. (NOTE: It’s a Christian faith based article, but has good info for everyone.) Her follow-up article is here, and her Snapchat article is here.

Rooting (Android) and Jailbreaking (Apple)
You may have heard these terms used by some in conversation, read about it online, or even heard it from your teens. The actual technical explanation behind both actions is well beyond the scope of this post and would bore most. Understanding what it can allow, and a basic understanding of what it means, is important though. So what is it?

The most simple way to put it: Rooting/Jailbreaking a device is the process of removing the limitations/restrictions/protections put in place by a device’s manufacturer. For Apple devices, jailbreaking removes the protections and restrictions Apple has designed in iOS (the mobile operating system), allowing one to do everything from install 3rd party apps (not approved by Apple) to tweaking the look, feel and functionality of the device. The main drawbacks: since the protections are now gone, the device is now susceptible to malware and more likely to crash due to modified code. It’s no longer in Apple’s “walled garden.” The main benefit is the ability to install apps not approved by Apple (there are many legitimate reasons for this, from tweaking the functionality to great apps Apple feels might take away from their profits.) Jailbreaking, obviously, is not supported by Apple and can even cause them to fail to honor warranties. Another HUGE limitation is not every device can be jailbroken. Currently, the latest version of iOS that can be jailbroken is 9.0.2 while the current release is 9.3.1. Lastly, there are many fake/malicious websites and programs out there related to jailbreaking. It’s important to be cautious.

Rooting an Android device is frequently done for similar reasons. By “unlocking the potential” of the device, you can now tweak the functionality or look and feel, as well as remove apps that were “hard coded” (also called “baked”) or included with the device. Normally these apps cannot be removed and are chosen by the provider/carrier. Rooting a device allows one to remove these apps. Since Android is already an open operating system, some basic modifications already allow you to install apps not included in Google’s Play Store. In both cases (rooting/jailbreaking), the underlying file structure becomes open to access, allowing all applications deeper access than they would normally have on stock devices. Like Apple, not all devices can be rooted, and the process is usually much more complex compared to jailbreaking an Apple device. The process can differ from each individual device, to each carrier, to each OS version adding complication to the whole process.

Prevention and monitoring options
Everyone knows prevention is the “magic bullet” when it works. One of the most common forms in the digital world is the famed “Parental Controls.” Though never perfect, it frequently automates some ways to be there when you can’t. All the popular mobile platforms have their ways of doing it, but they all do it a bit differently. Click the first link below for the individual devices to be taken to the full solution.

Apple (iPod/iPhone/iPad) devices: Apple has taken a very proactive approach with their parental controls. They allow you to do everything from limit which applications can be installed and used, limit the time the device is used, and even filter web content.

Android (MANY) devices: Besides some basic app blocking, Google doesn’t really offer the same rich parental controls that Apple does. Many 3rd party apps exist and should be tested to see which works the best for you. Please note some require “rooting” the device for full functionality. Google does have some basic options for tablets, but smartphones are left to fend for themselves. (More info can be found here.) This is likely to change with updates to the Android OS in the future.

The number one question after the discussion at AMS was how to prevent issues on devices and monitor existing data. This section addresses those very questions.

There are a few 3rd party options for both devices that are rated quite well that you may wish to look into. Tom’s Guide has a good write-up that discusses the pros and cons of many. Any of the top 3 would be a good choice, but know the limitations before making a decision. The app mentioned by a fellow parent, that they had success with, is My Mobile Watchdog. (Others have higher ratings.)

What about “beyond prevention?” Monitoring your child’s device(s) may remind you of Big Brother, but it’s a natural part of the digital age. There are a handful of applications out there, though many require a rooted/jailbroken device to obtain full functionality. These go beyond parental controls and restrictions, allowing you to access data from the device.

Only two stand out that DON’T require the complicated stuff: TeenSafe and MSPY. I’d encourage you to research them both for your own needs. They both work in a similar fashion, have their own limitations, and both cost a monthly fee. Other options (that require rooted/jailbroken devices), but are reported to work quite well, are HighsterSpyApp, FlexiSpy and Mobile-Spy. Again, the last few apps REQUIRE the device to be rooted/jailbroken to even install, let alone use. Make sure your device meets the requirements before purchasing one.

Another options is to access data directly from the device backups, be it on a PC or in the cloud. If you have Apple devices, I highly recommend iPhone Backup Extractor. It will allow you to easily see text messages, pictures, notes, and other app-specific information. Android users have a Backup Extractor too, though it’s not quite as robust or easy to use, it works quite well in our testing.

Really, what’s the worst that can happen?
It’s tempting to take the easy road and think your children “are too good to do something stupid” or “know better.” Everyone makes mistakes, even when they know better. Bad things really CAN happen to both you and your children when the worst comes. There have been multiple reports of child abductions, rape, and suicide directly related to children using social media apps. Are they all evil? No, of course not. Should you be careful? Yes! Should you educate your children on the dangers? Absolutely.

The following links are merely to show the type of incidents that have come from some of the social apps. “Knowledge is power” so knowing what can happen can assist you with your quest for safety.

Man, 35, charged with rape and more after meeting girl on Kik app
Teen Accused of Live-Streaming Her Friend’s Rape on Social Media
Suspect charged with rape, manufacturing child porn after luring teen victim on social media app
Platte County teen rape suspect allegedly harassed victim through text messages, social media
Man arrested for using social media to lure, kidnap teen
Ralston teen’s suicide brings renewed focus on dangers of social media *** MUST READ ***
Sexting-related bullying cited in Hillsborough teen’s suicide
How a cell phone picture led to girl’s suicide
Teenager commits suicide after ‘sexting’ a nude photo to her boyfriend made her life a misery
Jessica Logan Suicide: Parents Of Dead Teen Sue School, Friends Over Sexting Harassment

These links could go on for pages and pages. PLEASE heed this information and use it to educate yourself and your children of the dangers online. Learn what to watch for to protect them, and better yet, teach them to protect themselves.


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