How do I keep my kids safe online?
The safety of our children is at the forefront of every parent's daily activities. We want to make sure our children are safe when they are with us but especially when they are not. The Internet connected smart phone has increased our children's reach into the world and given others that wouldn't normally have access to our children easy ways of contacting them.
For every new app created you can rest assured there is someone out there figuring out how to use it to exploit children. While the developers of these apps cannot know this beforehand, they often ignore it once they find out. As a parent, it is our job to make sure our children are safe. For some parents, technology is new and unfamiliar but with a little research and exploration we can become as good on the apps and Internet as our children.
As one of two Internet Crimes Against Children Investigators for the Fort Worth Police Department and as a parent, I have a two-fold interest in educating parents on how to keep their children safe.
While there are many options available to parents, both free and paid, I have chosen to highlight some to give those technologically challenged parents a head start on where and how to find the right way to keep their children safe. Here are some of those that I find most helpful.
- FBI Child ID: Created by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this app lets parents store their children's photos plus other identification (height, weight, hair and eye color, age) for quick access if a child ever goes missing. The information is stored on the iPhone only until parents need to send it to authorities. Notable features include safety tips, checklists for what to do if something happens to your child, and shortcuts to dial 911 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Parents also have the ability to email information immediately to law enforcement agencies if the unthinkable occurs (Free; iPhone, iPad).
- Family Tracker: Don't just track the kids; track the whereabouts of the entire family! This app keeps tabs on anyone you like, but only if the other person accepts the one-time tracking request. The app uses a built-in messaging system, separate from standard text messaging, that allows you to contact family members and receive notifications that they read your messages. You even have the capability to get your kid's attention by setting the device to "play a loud, annoying siren". For each device you wish to track, you'll need to buy the app separately. An optional subscription service is available for you to view and export GPS data from previous days. ($5.99; iPhone, iPad, Android)
- Sex Offenders Search: If you just moved to a new neighborhood, or are planning to, you can research any neighborhood with this app.
Simply activate your smartphone's GPS and connect to the National Sex Offender Registry to locate registered sex offenders and predators in the area. You can search by name, address, and zip code, and results will be displayed on an interactive map. Click on a location for more details, such as pictures, names, addresses, and a list of offenses. ($1.99; iPhone, iPad, Android)
- The Phone Sheriff: One nice feature of the Phone Sheriff is that it allows you to set time limits on your teen's device. Want "OK, you can play with your phone for an hour" to really mean just 60 minutes? This app will shut down and lock the phone when you tell it to. http://www.phonesheriff.com/
- SecureTeen Parental Control: Worried about your teen being exposed to mature or adult content online? Try SecureTeen Parental Control that can filter out most if not all adult content. SecureTeen allows you to monitor your children's online activities, applications they download and their location. If you don't like an app that's installed on your child's phone then SecureTeen allows you to shut it down, even if it's still installed. SecureTeen can be managed remotely online by logging into the website. https://secureteen.com/
Although these apps are helpful and can assist you with knowing what your children are doing, nothing substitutes for good old fashion snooping. Surprise inspections of your child's phone are the best way to keep them on their toes. I have always found it helpful to be the only person that knows my children's iTunes password. That way any app downloaded has to be approved by me. If you agree to let your child use an app make sure you research it and become familiar with how it works. If we can stop others from exploiting our children before it happens we are all ahead of the game.
About the Author
Domingo Martinez is a Police Investigator with the Fort Worth Police Department's Crimes Against Children Unit focusing on Internet Crimes Against Children. He has 15 years experience as a Police Officer and has been in the Crimes Against Children Unit for four years. He is a Federal Task Force Officer with the FBI's Dallas Child Exploitation Task Force and is also a member of the North Texas Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. In addition to his regular job, he has a secondary duty as a Hostage Negotiator with the Fort Worth Police Department. During his free time, he enjoys spending time with his wife and four children.