How Safe are Your Kids?

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Growing up in McDonough, sildenafil I spent most of my childhood outdoors. I couldn’t wait to get home from school to go splash in the creek or build a new fort with my neighborhood friends. We had a simple set of rules that included being home before the street lights came on, buy and always using your manners when you trampled through the neighbor’s house for lunch. Our parents all knew each other and their biggest concerns were ticks, snakes, and broken bones. I still call McDonough home, but the sense of peace in the neighborhood has drifted off . . . along with our children’s freedom to play outside.

I don’t let my children wander the neighborhood. And the thought of my child entering a neighbor’s house that I don’t know, advice terrifies me. I don’t know many of my neighbors that well. We maintain our manners by waving and exchanging friendly gestures as we pass, but our children don’t play outside like I did when I was a child in the 80’s.

It’s not just McDonough that has changed. Our modern day culture has been transformed. Just watch the nightly news. Children are being neglected, bullied, and abused at an alarming rate. Our backyards aren’t safe anymore.

These days I hold my children closer. I watch my teenager ride his bike from my front porch. If he wants to play with a friend down the street, I drive him and send him with a cell phone. The down side to this is children are more confined within the safety of their homes – immersing themselves in television, phones, video games, and social media. The inherent need children have to socialize and play with friends will never change. By limiting their outdoor activity with playmates, they replace it with something else. Welcome to online socialization.

I decided to buy my son a cell phone at the age of twelve so I could keep track of him at all times. He was soon headed off to high school, and I was excited he would have a GPS system attached to him 24/7…. and I could click a little button on my phone and know where he was at all times. I thought I was doing everything I could to be a responsible parent. I installed apps on his phone that monitored his web activity. I randomly took his phone and browsed through it and made it very clear to him that the activities on his phone were to be shared with our family. I thought I was doing all I could do to protect my son. I was very wrong.

It started with a social studies project. A handful of kids at school were assigned a group project. In order for all of them to communicate on the project, they installed an app called Kik. Kik was chosen because one of the students had an iPod and it did not allow him to text. Kik was a way for ALL of them to communicate about their ongoing project through the app.

Simple enough. I didn’t question anything because my son regularly uses his phone and tablet at school. Little did I know, I was exposing my child to a network of predators.

Kik is a text messaging app that allows communication between users by bypassing the normal text features on a phone. Anyone can sign up and keep their identity secret. Online predators love this app because it is common among children and the app is based on foreign soil. Conversations are done in groups where anyone can join and participate.

As I sit here and write this, I struggle with being this open and candid about our experience. I’m embarrassed that I did not do enough to protect my child, but I want other parents to know how dangerous this app and others like them are. I won’t go into the graphic details about our experience, but I would like to educate others on how easy it is for these online predators to capture the attention of our children.

I asked my son for his phone for my periodic viewing, like I normally do. I started scrolling through and the first “chat group” I came across was just what my son explained. . . a group of students discussing how best to develop a class project. But the next “chat group” …. left my heart on the floor.

The “chat group” sitting in front of my face was a group put together for young teenage boys that encouraged them to ask questions about girls. The narrator posed himself as a 16 year old boy who wanted to “educate” younger boys about questions they wanted to ask girls, but were too scared to ask their parents. The unofficial rules were, you had to be 16 or younger and male. No girls allowed. Many boys at the site told the group where they live and where they go to school. (The young boys think they are only talking to other kids.)

Most of the questions I saw were innocent enough until I continued to scroll more. The narrator started asking the boys to role play with each other so they could feel more comfortable talking to girls. This is where things got ugly. The conversations between the young boys and the narrator became horrifically graphic. The narrator explained how the nature of these conversations were normal and the boys could anticipate this type of dialog in the future with women. Once the narrator had taught the boys the proper language to use, they were then asked to move to another group. . . another group where they would further their knowledge and begin interacting with more experienced “adolescents.” These other groups were actually “owned” by the narrator and were set up for pedophiles so they could interact with young boys. Payment in the form of bitcoins were offered if they were “good enough.”

The narrator from the group attempted to reach out to my son for months after I discovered the app. He had absolutely no fear of being caught. He threatened to publish the chats and publicly embarrass my son if he did not talk back to him. I still live in fear that he knows where we are. Nothing can change that.

This is just my account from one little app. There are dozens more like this one. After I reached out for help at the school and our church, I was blown away at how many other parents have faced the same thing. Our pastor told us stories of other youth group members who were actually followed home from online predators.

Please educate yourselves and don’t assume your child won’t be caught up in the web of pedophiles.

(More information can be found from Prevent Child Abuse Henry County at www.preventchildabusehc.org)