Connecticut State Police are helping parents navigate the difficult world of teens and apps by touring the state and educating both adults and children on social media safety.
School Resource Officer Trooper Kate Cummings is the expert when it comes to kids socializing on social media. She goes to Connecticut schools and talks to students about the risks of certain apps and how to be smart online.
Police say Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube are the hands-down favorite apps for kids and young adults. However, Trooper Cummings showed NBC Connecticut that there are plenty of other apps parents should know about.
“We have been doing these internet safety presentations. Over the course of the last four years, we have done about 350 -- communities, schools, with parents, caregivers, businesses, whoever will listen. And we like to ask kids their favorite apps. And we are seeing regionally within Connecticut that there is a big fascination with apps where things are anonymous,” said Cummings.
Police said anonymous apps like Whisper, Sarahah, Burn Book and Hot or Not can lead to cyber bullying. They also recommend parents watch out for secret socializing on the apps Kik or House Party. They remind parents that most apps have some sort of message capabilities.
Police said the video making app TikTok or gaming apps like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox can be a breeding ground for predators to reach out to younger adolescents.
“Parents get this false sense of security of, 'oh okay, it's a kid app,' but we know now that predators are aware of which apps are popular among elementary and middle school aged students. And so for them to go on and create a fake profile - it is much easier for them to start grooming children,” said Cummings.
The next red flag for parents is if they see any dating apps such as Bumble, Grindr or Tinder. These apps are meant for adults only.
“As a child, if you are downloading that it will automatically start pulling your location from our map feature on your phone and then it will show you where other users are. Unfortunately, we are seeing across the state, speaking with other school resource officers and youth officers, we have been seeing children under the age of 18 downloading these apps and using them as hookup apps,” said Cummings.
One of the most troubling apps police said is called hidden calculator. The app both looks and acts like an actual calculator, however, if you type in a passcode it opens up a vault where you can store secret pictures and videos.
“So this a great place for kids to hide pictures and videos that they don't want mom and dad to see, or internet sites that they are not supposed to go to. So when parents are checking phones periodically, if they see multiple calculators, that is a red flag that it is probably not a functioning calculator,” said Cummings.
For parents, it’s a world tough to navigate. Police said kids are often sending nude photos, a crime if you’re under the age of 16, and they’re not thinking about the consequences or risks.
“I think a lot of parents feel they are behind the curve and kids are always going to be ahead of us because they spend so much time on it,” said Cummings.
So what can parents do? Police suggest starting with three steps: communicate, control and research.
“I think for parents, asking questions. Downloading the apps themselves, becoming familiar with it and then also having that control piece. So especially the younger kids you should have their user name and passwords for all of their accounts,” said Cummings.
Police suggest parents ask kids what apps they like, why and who do they follow? Then download the apps and follow the same people. Parents should also remind kids that what goes online, stays online as part of their digital tattoo forever.
Police suggest parents go to this Common Sense Media website for help. They also recommend that parents download parental control apps on their young children’s devices and set boundaries early on.
If parents want help, Connecticut State Police often hold social media safety seminars across the state.
Here is a list of the upcoming dates:
- April 9th: Wilcox Tech High School (Meriden) 6:30 p.m.
- April 23rd: Ellington Youth Services 7 p.m.
- April 25th: Staples High School (Westport) 10 a.m.
- April 25th: Borrows STEM Academy (North Windham) 5:30 p.m.
- April 29th: Suffield Middle School 6:30 p.m.
- April 30th: Breakthrough Magnet School (Hartford) 6 p.m.
- May 1st: CES (Trumbull) 6 p.m.
- May 4th: Holiday Inn (East Hartford) 1:30 p.m.