GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A warning to all parents with young children, keep an eye on the apps they are using on their computers and cell phones. The dangers of what can happen to a child were made clear in December after police say a 13-year-old in West Michigan was lured to the home of sex offender through the app ‘Kik’.
When a child finds out their parents are sending them friend requests on Facebook or following them on Twitter, they are looking for the next thing in social media to keep a little privacy.
The problem can be that sometimes the kids are running into the virtual arms of an online predator. It’s a rising concern among parents who are turning to professional therapists to keep their head above the rising social media waters.
As a therapist behind Creative Solutions Counseling, Joe Martino has seen a rise in parents concern over social media and their kids.
“There are just so many things coming down the pipe every other day,” say Martino. “Ask FM, Kik. All these different things and they are trying to stay up on it and they just can’t.”
Those in law enforcement are seeing the same trend.
Ottawa County Sheriff’s Captain Mark Bennett said, “Kik has become a very popular app, especially for young adults and teens to be able to communicate with each other.”
The problem, he said, it can be hard to track messages and phone numbers through those apps. There are parent safety websites designed to warn parents about apps like this.
“It’s really up-ticked in our investigations as far as missing persons,” said Bennett.
According to Bennett, 39-year-old Manuel Salto, a convicted sex offender, lured a 13-year-old girl from Jenison to his home in Grand Rapids.
The investigation revealed a relationship that resulted in a pregnancy. On Tuesday, Jan. 14, Salto pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
“That particular case, there was indication that there was some communication over the Kik app,” said Bennett.
Martino said cases like that highlight the need for parents to be proactive.
“You’ve got to have the conversation,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to have your kids be angry with you if that is what is for their best.”
Martino said if you find out that inappropriate behavior has already happened, “The first thing you do is you let the fear and anger burn itself out before you have the conversation.”
He said by coming at the conversation with your child after cooling down, you are less likely to have them pull away all together.
“The difficulty is the more heavy handed you get, the more you could push them into behavior that you don’t want,” he said.
One thing the professionals recommend is for parents to do their homework. Martino encourages parents to know what every app on their child’s phone does and if they don’t know, delete it.