"Don't Talk To Strangers"

How often did we hear that phrase growing up? “And don’t talk to strangers!” Long before the internet, ubiquitous cell phones, and Wi-Fi in every home and business, “strangers” had faces and tried to talk to us in person, in public, outside our homes. If you were to tell a 13-year-old today, “don’t talk to strangers”, you would probably get a very strange look, followed by “duh”, as they return their focus to their mobile device, if their focus ever left that device in the first place. The internet, specifically the mobile internet, is in their DNA. They don’t have to “learn how to do the internet”. They were born with it and raised on it.

But there are still “strangers.” Unfortunately for us parents of teens and younger kids, we can’t look those “strangers” in the eye, and make sure our kids are safe from them. Let me be clear. When I say “strangers”, what I mean is “predators”, and in Atlanta, unfortunately, we have the worst “#1 Ranking” we could possibly get: Atlanta ranks #1 in sex trafficking.
And now we have the dubious combination of the hub of sex trafficking coupled with a the most narcissistic, entitled generation of mobile internet users we could possibly imagine. The #selfie generation has mobile devices connected to the internet at all times, and most of their parents are doing this in response:
Is this approach working?
It may or may not be intentional, but either way, the ostrich-like behavior when it comes to kids’ mobile devices is not working. Here are some statistics from a seminar that we attended at our church Friday and Saturday called “Protecting the Family.” Some of them actually a bit dated (meaning they are much worse now), that demonstrate what we have invited into our homes through that big fat internet pipe to which all devices are now connected 24/7.
  • In 2009, Hollywood produced 846 movies, while the porn industry made 20,000. That was six years ago.
  • 25% of all internet search requests (Google, Bing, Yahoo!…all of them) are for the word “porn”
  • Every day, the porn industry sends out 2.5 billion emails.
  • The porn industry actively pursues and purchases misspellings of children’s web sites.
  • “Mobile phone porn” is now a category, and brings in $5 billion/year, which is 25% more money than the NFL brings in each year.
  • The average age of a child being exposed to “hard core porn” — meaning pictures and videos of people having sex — is 11 years old, and trending down rapidly.
  • Each day, people under the age of 25 see more than 40 sexually explicit references via phone, web, or TV.
  • More than 30% of young people have admitted to sexting naked pictures to another person.
The rapid expansion of the online porn, mobile phone porn, and sex trafficking is largely due to the complete availability of a non-stop connection to our kids via their phones and tablets. Sexual predators no longer have to physically appear as “strangers” to entice young kids into their evil world. They still do, but now they get introduced to children through mobile apps. Specifically, here are the top mobile apps that sexual predators utilize to entice young people.
  • SnapChat — this app was created for the specific purpose of enabling sexting. They say that whatever image the user sends will disappear from the recipient’s mobile device in 6 seconds. They lie. If you actually believe that anything ever disappears from the internet, then you should return your iPhone, cancel your email account, and invest in a pre-paid flip phone.
  • Tinder — billed as a “dating” app, Tinder uses your location to find people to meet, or as people in the real world say, “hook up with”, and the app has no age verification. What could possibly go wrong?
  • Blendr — This “flirting” app uses your geo-location to find people to flirt with, but has no required user authentication. What could possibly go wrong?
  • kik — another app specifically designed to enable sexting, kik has no parental controls. Good corporate responsibility there.
  • Yik Yak — this app is completely anonymous, and the 200 characters that you can type are only available to other anonymous strangers within a few miles of your geographic location. There are no filters on the words that any user can type.
  • Omegle — a random chat app, similar to the now failed “chat roulette”, Omegle sets you (your child) up with random strangers (there’s that word again) to chat with. Again, what could possibly go wrong?
  • NowLive, Meerkat, Periscope — you’ve heard of “live streaming”? These apps enable anyone to live stream anything they’re doing anytime to anyone who can access the internet. “Creepy” doesn’t do justice here.
  • Instagram — Yes, the second most popular social network (300M+ users), which is owned by the most popular social networking app, Facebook, is a predator’s dream. The primary demographic of Instagram is young people under 30, which is the aforementioned selfie generation. Unless your child makes their account private and turns off location services, anyone can follow his or her pictures directly to your home or their school using Instagram’s photomap service, which shows exactly where photos were taken using the app.
Don’t see Facebook here, do you? No, you don’t. You’re on it, so your kids are not, generally speaking. If they are, see suggestions for Instagram above, and adjust Facebook privacy settings according to who you want to be able to see your kid’s pictures, friends, location, activity, likes, and comments.
Are these apps themselves evil? No, not all of them, though clearly some were created simply to answer a market need, however insidious that need may be. But some of the people using these apps are evil. If you don’t believe that people can be evil, then by all means, don’t turn on the TV so your rose-colored-glasses-jamboree won’t be ruined. Knowing how evil predators use these apps for evil purposes, you also need to understand these two things:
  • If your child is using a phone to communicate online with someone else, that someone else can find their location.
  • If your child is using a phone to communicate online with someone else, that someone else can get their phone number.
Accomplishing the two tasks above is child’s play to an experienced hacker. We’ve invited the entire internet into our homes via high speed connections to many devices into our houses, and now we’ve invited everything evil about the interwebz to keep our children company wherever they go.
So what do we do? Below are a few — ok quite a few — steps you can (should) take. But before you do that, ask yourself why you’re doing it, and consider the words of G.K. Chesterton:

“A soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what stands behind him.”

If that’s why you’re still reading, here are the steps you should take to protect your family from all the crap we don’t want the internet to be.
Laptop computers & home internet connection:
  • Install OpenDNS on your home WiFi router and every device that accesses the internet at any time.
  • Turn on Google Safe Search, and lock it with a passcode.
  • Turn on Safety Mode in YouTube.
  • Install alert software like NetNanny or CovenantEyes so you’ll know when someone in your family visits sites that are “off limits” to the family.
Mobile devices:
Social Media:
  • Follow your kids on all social media accounts
  • Friend your kids on all social media accounts
  • Friend your kids’ friends on all social media accounts
  • Engage with your kids on all social media accounts
Those are just the technological steps, which will stop the low hanging fruit. The most important, and therefore the most difficult, step is pull our heads out of the sand, acknowledge that it’s WAY easier for any “stranger” to reach out to our kids than it ever has been, and take proactive steps to prevent our families from becoming statistics in Atlanta’s #1 ranking.

What do you think about that?

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