A couple weeks ago, author John Girolamo spoke with us about dangers from online predators. Today, we have the second segment of that interview.
Cynthia: We’ve been talking about human trafficking two weeks ago, and we are coming back to finish the topic. We were talking about some of the things the predators do and some of the grooming that goes on. John tell us how parents can be pro-active.
John: Sure. I think the first thing that any parent is going to want to know is what applications are on their kids’ phones. Go into your iPhone or Android and figure out what’s been downloaded. Set up some parental control software programs such as bark and canopy. Those are very popular, and they’ll help you manage that. However, you’ve got to check those things. And you need to check them often. Also, a lot of these programs have a secret or hidden folders. For example, Snapchat is a very popular program, and it has a secret folder called ‘for my eyes only,’ so if you’re not aware of that as a parent you have no idea what’s in there. You may be checking their Snapchat story think it’s appropriate and probably it is, but who knows what’s in this folder. Who knows what picture somebody has sent your kid. It really takes a lot of diligence, and not only just checking things but having those conversations with the kid explaining what your values are. What’s OK. What’s not OK, What are the time limits. I always recommend the child give you his or her phone when they go to bed. Don’t let it take them into their room. It’s a great way for a kid to waste time and not get good sleeping patterns. Who knows what they’re doing? You may have a parental control software set at 10:00 PM so they cannot have Internet access. Well, if they’ve set that time zone to Hawaii time, and you’re in New York City, well it’s not 10:00 PM. They can get around those things and so you’re going to want to be aware some of those ways that teens circumvent things. There’s just no way around it, you must be diligent, and you have to check often. If you do it once at 13, you’re going to have to do it many times throughout their young adult life. When you’re coming up with some interesting information.
Cynthia: You’re talking about a phone which your child is taking it to school with them. How can you monitor a phone?
John: You’re talking about something that’s going to be with the kid, and that means that they may not be using the family computer, which is going to be a little bit harder to control. Then there may be other programs besides just playing social media.
Cynthia: You’re talking about a bunch of programs like Snapchat. What are some of the other ones important to watch?
John: Programs like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram are probably the most popular in that say 12- to 20-year-old age group. Just about every kid has that now. The problem with a lot of these programs is you have no idea what all these other people are doing. A lot of these kids like to have lots of followers, so they’ll get a friend request, and they’ll just say sure, why not. I saw an interview of a teenager who said that that she would rate Snapchat and TikTok as R. She was quoted as saying “gross nudity pics just show up on my phone.” Parents think if you use privacy settings, that it’s going to keep their child safe. I can guarantee you that stuff is going to show up on their phone that they have no intention, and it will be inappropriate. That’s the problem with some of these programs and if you do any kind of search on a program like Tik Tok, you can link right to porn sites right away. The tech companies are going to tell you they have safety measures etcetera. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work because people put up and take down profiles in a matter of minutes. If someone like Tik Tock or Snapchat throws off somebody, they’ll just go and create a brand new profile for that app. These things can happen really fast. You need to be checking that. Honestly, it’s not just girls, it’s boys as well. One example that’s very common is a girl will make a friend request to a teenage boy. This will be a very attractive college age person, usually a fake profile. They will make a connection online, and the next thing you know this woman has sent your teenage boy an explicit picture probably from a porn site. Then she’ll pressure him into sending his own picture. I’ve sent it to you now, you show me. When he does that, he will be immediately extorted for money. I’ve talked to police officers about this. All of this happens within 24 hours, and so it can be very quick, and that’s a tactic that these predators use all the time. Of course, once the pictures are out there on the Internet, it really doesn’t go away. This person on the other side will threaten to send it to this person’s other friends and family members etcetera. They’re counting on that teenager’s shame, and they’re trying to extort money from them.
Cynthia: Oh, my goodness. Teach your kids not to befriend just anyone. Instead, be suspicious of anybody unless they know that person already and have talked to them in person.
John: Yeah, that’s really the recommendation. I mean obviously, there can be issues with people you know. There’s cyber bullying. Things happen in the middle school and high school level between classmates, but at least there it’s somebody you know in their peer group. Not some adult predator that maybe after them.
Cynthia: This is more complicated than I expected. If people can create a profile and then get out of it and get another profile really quickly, it’s going to be hard to catch them.
John: It’s very difficult for law enforcement because of the way that these profiles are so easy to put up and take down, and a lot of these predators have multiple profiles. There are really no controls in place to stop somebody from doing that. Organizations like Stay safe.org estimates their 750,000 predators online at any time. It’s almost a guarantee that some predator will approach your kid online at some point. If they are online from 12 to 18, that’s six years, and at some point some predators are going to try to contact them.
Cynthia: Do you advocate not giving your address, or not giving information at all online.
John: Yeah, absolutely. You definitely don’t want to give their address in your profile. I also recommend, especially for the younger ones, not use a real picture of yourself. Put a picture of a pet, or a sport, or whatever that you might be interested in as your profile picture. Have the privacy settings not only on the phone, but on the application itself. Because if you take a picture, that picture is typically embedded with GPS coordinates, so if somebody looks at that picture, they’re going to know exactly where you are. Check the privacy settings on both the overall phone and the application.
Cynthia: Your phone gives information about the location. I had forgotten that.
John: Yeah, that’s pretty much embedded in smartphones. There are things called GPS spoofer programs which will trick the phone into saying where that child is. So, it’s typically you’ll see that in sort of the later teenager. They say they’re going over to their best friend’s house. They plug in the address, but really they’re at some party or something like that. That ties back into knowing when applications are downloaded on the phone, and you as the parent, should be the only one approving.
Cynthia: You also need to be able to understand the phones because I’m discovering I don’t even understand my phone, and I’m an adult.
John: There are things called dumb phones. There are a couple different products out there, and what they’ll do is they will have phone and some texting information. You give that phone to your kid. “I’m done with practice come pick me up etcetera,” but it doesn’t have Internet access. It doesn’t take or receive any kind of photos. That can limit some of the things going on. Let’s face it the kids are always one step ahead of the parents on technology. Kids are always looking to circumvent some kind of parental control, and the Internet is helping them. I give presentations about this subject, and I tell the parents get out your phone, go on to YouTube and type in what to do if you have strict parents. There’s thousands of videos put up by teenagers explaining to other teenagers how to circumvent their parents.
Cynthia: That’s scary.
John: Yeah, it’s frightening actually.
Cynthia: I’m kind of glad my kids are grown.
John: I understand. In the old days if you wanted to be sneaky, you had to either be creative or ask your friends. Now you just ask Siri or Alexa or YouTube.
Cynthia: If I have a problem on my computer, all I have to do is go to YouTube, and ask a question. I can find 10 answers. Is that how kids find information?
John: Imagine if they’re looking up how to get around parental control software or something like that. There’s information out there for kids to try to follow, and there’s all kinds of things that they can do. They can start the phone in safe mode and download apps that look like other apps. It’s a fake program. I mean there’s a calculator program out there that does real math, but it advertises itself as hiding your secrets in different folders. But yet it’s a real calculator program, so a parent thinks, “Oh, they’re doing their math homework.” Maybe, maybe not.
Cynthia: That gets into the whole issue of openness and honesty. Anytime something is secret that’s a little bit suspicious. I think we need to be teaching our kids character and openness so that they’re open with what they’re doing. Evil is going to hurt them. That’s a conversation you might want to have with your kids too.
Cynthia: I’m not a young woman, but at least once a week somebody comes on and says “Oh you’re so pretty. Can we have a conversation? Will you be my friend?” I’m thinking, yeah right. I’m an adult and they do it to me, so I know they must do it to young people.
John: Yeah, absolutely. They’re out there, and every parent wants to keep their kids safe. You’ve got to be involved you got to be diligent. You must have those conversations. You must explain values, explain the danger, and put some parameters on them. Kids are always going to try to push the envelope, and they may not even be looking for some problem. But there are cases out there where somebody was on a group chat, and there’s this thing called revenge where somebody will send a picture of themselves. They break up, and now they’ve sent that picture to 20 people on a group chat. That’s happened at the middle school level between different students and that’s happened more than once. Since it’s unfortunately a common occurrence. Your kid might not even ask for any pictures, but now suddenly, they’ve got it. If it’s middle school or early high school, it’s child porn that’s now on your kid’s phone. That’s a problem. Now they can manipulate pictures even if they took a picture of you, they can manipulate that, and it wouldn’t even be you. But they could send it out as if it was. There are all kinds of possibilities. They may try to use that to extort somebody. You might say “Hey, that’s not really me. I never did this,” but if they go and send it on your friend list, 1000 different people That’s a scary blackmail tactic.
Cynthia: And your reputation is ruined.
John: You’ll spend all your time trying to defend yourself, and that’s where cyber bullying comes in. That’s going to lead to teen depression, low self-esteem. That’s when you’re going to want to look for those behavioral changes in your kid. It could mean all kinds of stuff, but it could mean this type of situation too. If they suddenly become angry, defiant, or on the other side become withdrawn and never leave the room. They don’t want to talk. Something’s going on. It may not be computer related, but something’s going on. The parent needs to find out the source of that issue because it’s probably not going to resolve itself.
Cynthia: It’s important for us to have good relationships with them when they’re that age so that they will talk to us. That’s a tough time for them anyway, but it’s important to have good relationships. Is there anything else you can add before we close?
John: Yeah. I think the one thing that every parent needs to know is that teen sexting is on the rise where middle school and high school kids are sending pictures of themselves. That is a rising problem, and it’s not just stranger predator, but it’s also people that you know. There’s stats out there that say that by the time someone graduates high school 90% of the students have sent or received some kind of picture. So, it’s going to hit your child in some fashion. You need to have that conversation. Explain your values, why that’s inappropriate, for a variety of reasons. Explain it from a biblical perspective. I think that will go a long way and we haven’t even talked about pornography for guys because that’s another entire issue.
Cynthia: If kids get into porn, they can get addicted.
John: It is addictive. Unfortunately, the stats are showing the average age is now about nine or ten years old, which is super young. That really works that person’s view of sexuality of marriage and relationships. That really feeds into the into the predator situation. That feeds into sexting. If someone’s viewing these types of explicit pictures on a regular basis, it can become addictive. They tend to be more violent, more degrading to women. That normalizes things for that viewer and so if they’ve started seeing this at 10 years old. At 15 it doesn’t seem odd that they’re asking their girlfriend for pictures. That’s a big problem when it’s normalized.
Cynthia: That distorts that sense of what a relationship should look like.
John: It certainly isn’t a Christ centered view of how human sexuality should look like. The girl or the body becomes objectified to get pleasure.
Cynthia: It has nothing to do with the relationship between two people which is much deeper than just the sex.
John: Absolutely. It’s more focused on just the physical body, pleasure in the moment, that type of thing. There’s nothing there about love, marriage, commitment etcetera, which is what parents should be instilling in their children. The big tech companies are not looking out for you.
Thank you, John, for informing us about this problem. You can find John at itisnotabout.com. His book is called It’s Not About the Predator.