PSA for parents (long): Internet dangers are real and make parenting teenagers even harder than it already is these days. I've known this and have tried to have agreements in place, talked about dangers and false realities. I watch over usage as I slowly let the kid be more responsible. But, even adults have a hard time understanding the complexities of how bad people can manipulate and control your online experience unbeknownst to you. Phishing, scamming, and stealing.
We recently experienced an issue that really brought home how predatory these folks can be. Sex trafficking and child porn is a business for many scumbags because there is money in it. There are sophisticated operations manipulating child sites, even ones that appear to be harmless.
My daughter loves to do animation and draw characters. She had an app that let her do this (Gatcha Life) that seemed harmless and a friend game called Roblox she played with her friends at school that also seemed harmless. But it started to feed her other things. Then a friend told her about an app to chat with kids (OME.TV aka Omegle - evil site - BLOCK IT).
Within 5 days things went super south and she came to me. Things were not right on her Google searches (the same search on my computer was certainly way different than hers). I deleted the apps and accounts (Roblox I had to threaten to contact their CEO before they would finally delete her account). But I figured I needed some help to make sure it was really clean.
I turned to a friend who is an expert in IT Security. Kaden Sinclair an amazing man who took a look at her computer for me.
What he found was frightening. Part of what was done was search redirects, so that the more she engaged, the more her web traffic was directed to controlled locations. Even standard google searches. Pulling up only things they wanted her to see.
It clearly shows they would try to absolutely control her online world and even when she thought she was away from them, they could keep her under watch and slowly put things in front of her that would cage her in.
They try to put sites in front of her that encourage rebellion against parents. Tell them about conferences or shows nearby with their interests and point them to smaller airports. (Don't need to explain what could happen there.)
All really horrific stuff that was locked in hidden areas of the computer that didn't go away from me deleting accounts and uninstalling apps.
I am purchasing software to help me monitor better than what I had from Windows and McAfee. SecureTeen Parental Controls. We are having lots of conversations too as I know I can't protect her 100% nor can I keep her off a computer. She could just borrow some device.
Interesting timing, her school just had Boise police come to talk to kids about cyber sex rings, cyber bullying and other topics.
What a messed up world.
I write this to say to all my friends parenting right now. Stay vigilent, talk to your kids often. Even though you want to give them freedom understand these scumbags lure full grown adults into scams. They use psychological tactics really well:
Intimidation (threats, anger)
Helpfulness (pull on heart strings)
Familiarity (make you feel known, heard)
Technical (use emails, jargon, create sense of urgency)
With teenagers they pull on the fear of missing out, the sense of wanting to belong and be cool, the sense of wanting to be independent.
It's hard enough being a teenager these days without your online world getting manipulated.
Be strong. Be present. Talk. Love. Talk some more. Watch. Monitor. And use your tribe (thank you Kaden for being in my tribe).