Computer crimes unit offers advice for parents on teen apps - WNEM TV 5

Computer crimes unit offers advice for parents on teen apps

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

While sitting down as a family hasn't changed much in decades, the world around us certainly has.

Smart phones have given us a whole new way to conduct our lives.

And Tracy Butcher told the I-Team she sees it with her teens every day.

"They use them for everything, I mean absolutely everything- calculators, recording, taking pictures of notes on the board instead of writing them down," Butcher said.

As easy as smart phones and tablets and their endless apps have made life, they've also opened the door to new topics parents often don't want to talk about, capabilities they might not want their teens to have and relationships they don't want their children making.

In the past few months, numerous scandals and heartbreaks involving teens across the country have been sparked on an app.

Back in November, there was a high school sexting ring in Colorado where students saved and exchanged hundreds of nudes using password-protected photo vault apps disguised as a calculator or media player.

Several students were suspended and some could face a felony charge.

In January, 13-year-old Nicole Lovell of Virginia was found stabbed to death after sneaking out one night.

Police said she met one of the suspects on the messaging app Kik.

David Eisenhauer, 18, and an alleged accomplice face several felonies.

Mid-Michigan isn't sheltered from these incidents, though.

In January 2015, a threat on the anonymous messaging app Yik Yak caused more than half a dozen schools in Midland, Bay and Saginaw counties to go into heightened security mode.

The 18-year-old Freeland high student who admitted to sending it pleaded guilty to using a computer to make a threat.

And in November, Flushing Schools sent a letter to parents after police said some middle school students began chatting and exchanging inappropriate photos with someone they didn't know on the messaging app Snapchat.

The Michigan State Police said, as is common with child porn cases, that individual then started to make threats against the middle schoolers if they didn't send more pictures.

With new apps coming out every day, the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit said parents need to be just as concerned with who your children are chatting with on apps as you are with who they're hanging out with.

As a detective for MSP's Computer Crimes Unit, David Vergison has seen first-hand how teens can get themselves into risky situations they don't know how to get out of.

"You need to be involved," Vergison said.

He said parents need to teach their children their actions on the internet or apps have consequences and you can never trust what you read or who you come into contact with.

Vergison suggests keeping your teen’s passcodes, know what kind of accounts they have, monitoring messaging apps, and limiting teens’ time with their devices in private spaces like their rooms.

Vergison said the goal is for parents to be cognizant of what their children are doing in their virtual world.

"Not to be obsessed with our kids, but to have an active approach with keeping them safe," Vergison said.

Butcher would be a model example of that.

While Butcher said she prefers to keep an open dialogue about what her teens are doing and who they're talking with via their apps, she'd pay for one of the programs, like TeenSafe, to monitor her teens' activity anonymously if she had to.

She said it's just part of being a parent.

"I hope at some time they'll understand as they're older like, 'Hey, mom was just doing what mom needed to do to help us grow up,’" Butcher said.

Butcher said all parents can do is their best in trying to keep their children safe.

"Just try your hardest, because it's way different now than it was when we were younger, there's just so many more avenues for people to find other people," Butcher said.

It’s important to note, not all activity on apps like Kik and Snapchat are bad. But the ones parents should monitor include photo vault apps and messaging apps.

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