SHELBY — Summer time means children away from the classroom and with more free time on their hands.
However, many of them spend even more time on their computers, and that can be a concern. In February, the Shelby Police Department posted on its Facebook page about the need for parents to be aware of the social apps their kids were using.
Indeed, it does seem like an endless issue of children being put at risk by an ever-presence of technology. As Detective Ryan Anschutz of the Mansfield Police Department put it, “with the advent of technology, now the accessibility is dramatically increased.”
Recently, a trend is growing toward anonymous chatting apps such as ASKfm or Kik. Earlier this year, in fact, evidence hinted that Kik was how the Virginia teen murdered a little over a year ago met her killer.
But, why are kids actively seeking out to talk to people anonymously, to meet strangers?
“That’s a really difficult question, actually,” Anschutz said.
Kids are now given phones “that have access to the entire world (and) the ease of access is the key part.”
So what’s to inhibit a kid with curiosity and seemingly unfettered access?
The polar opposite of this uninhibited access seems to be parent-monitoring apps such as My Mobile Watchdog. As the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brian Sands, explained, the app “monitors, journals, and archives” everything from a child’s texts to what apps they are using to their location.
For Sands, who has two children of his own, monitoring what a child is doing on their device is a necessity when the problem of Internet safety.
“It has become an epidemic,” he said. “Strangers don’t come to the door anymore.”
Suraya Akbarzad, senior public relations manager for ASKfm, said the company is aware of the concern.
“One of the critical pieces here is education,” Akbarzad said.
The chatting app encourages its user community to familiarize itself with blocking and reporting tools within (the) app. There are also 10 different tips for dealing with cyber bullying.
Detective Anschutz agrees the emphasis should be put on education.
“Education lies in the home.”
Still, the Mansfield Police Department understands the issue goes beyond a lack of knowledge. It has entered into a collaboration with the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) as well as the FBI and their Child Exploitation Task Force.
“We realize that this is a high risk to the community,” Anschutz said.
For predators, the rise in technology and social media has arguably only made it easier.
“It’s like waving candy in front of a child for people who are predisposed to that,” Anschutz said. “We want to protect the children because they can’t necessarily protect themselves.”
The Mansfield Police Department and ICAC offer numerous educational seminars on this rising issue. The seminars serve not only as education on the dangers of the Internet and the importance on monitoring but also as a support system for parents, kids, and teachers.
“The threat today is really the omnipresence,” Anschutz said.