Missing teen case prompts reminder about messaging app

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Image provided by police

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A missing teen is safely back home after police say she was found nearly 500 miles away in Iowa.

Michigan State Police said it appeared 16-year-old Joy Martin left her home in Fennville to travel to Iowa State University to meet someone whom she was messaging through the app called KIK.

While the post about Martin being missing was shared thousands of times on the FOX 17 Facebook page, several people commenting on the post said they were not familiar with the KIK app.

“For a parent to not be aware of the apps that a kid is using is shocking to me," said Chris McKenna, who runs ProtectYoungEyes.com, a site dedicated to educating parents about what apps their kids are using on their devices.

McKenna said it's surprising to him that KIK remains as unfamiliar as it does to some considering the scrutiny the app has come under from law enforcement for nearly a decade since its creation.

"It’s almost as if a parent were to say, ‘I’ve never heard of this Facebook, what is this,'" McKenna said. "KIK has been around that long and not only has it been around, it’s been publicized enough because of the ways it’s been mistreated.”

McKenna acknowledges the app has "cleaned up its act" by adding different user filters and increasing cooperation with law enforcement during investigations involving the app but contends it stills remains one of the most difficult for parents to monitor.

But secrecy and anonymity is exactly what appeals to teens using apps like KIK, he said.

“You can be whoever you want," McKenna told FOX 17. "It gives me the perception of decreased risk and to a teenage brain that already has a tough time judging risk, that’s just fuel for bad behavior.”

However it's not about being an expert in every app, McKenna says, but being open with your children about what's acceptable and what's off limits and taking necessary steps to block access to certain applications if needed.

"Kids don’t need their parents to be experts, they just need to be informed about the risks," he said.

Police did not specify where Martin was found or who she was found with at Iowa State University.

In a message to FOX 17, the teen's brother Jaron Martin extended thanks to those who shared posts about his missing sister, adding "words cannot describe how thankful we are to have her back and safe."

"My heart breaks for what happened to this young girl because it is consistent with a lot of what I see," McKenna said.

"My mission to help as many parents as possible teach their kids to be equipped with tools to prevent a child having access to an app she isn’t mature enough to handle or making a decision to end up multiple states away in a horribly compromising situation that no young person should ever find themselves in.”

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