Fort Worth, Texas,
16:35 PM

Want to protect your kids from online predators? Be a snoop.

The dangers 'hook-up websites' pose to kids

"Hookup websites” make it easier than ever before to meet total strangers. These apps allow people to find each other in their area who are looking for sex.

The problem is these apps simply aren’t for children under any circumstance and can lead to tragic consequences.

On Feb. 11, a 44-year-old Arlington man was arrested of sexually assaulting four students in the Keller ISD.

Reports say the man met the girls through a website called Seeking/ Other sites parents should be concerned about include Grindr, Tinder and KIK.

“The problem with these message apps is that it’s really hard to find the perpetrators after they use them,” said Jamye Coffman, M.D., pediatrician and medical director for Cook Children’s Advocacy Resource and Evaluation. “That information is difficult to find. So it can be very anonymous. It’s very dangerous for teenagers because they don’t really know who is on the other side.”

With the GPS devices on the apps of these sites, your teenage kid could give a complete stranger the location of your home. They may come into mom and dad’s home without you even knowing it. 

Coffman said that the reason for the bad judgment can be directly related to basic science.

“Teenagers and younger-aged children just aren’t able from a developmental standpoint to really grasp the consequences of what they are doing,” Coffman said. “Their frontal lobe of their brain hasn’t finished developing. Their impulse control is not very good. It’s up to the parents to know what their kids are up to. They have to know what’s on their child’s phone. Parents need to look at their phones and see what apps they’re using and talk to them about it.”

And with kids becoming more tech savvy in elementary school, the need for conversations about predators and sex must begin at an earlier age than ever before.

“The goal is to get them to adulthood, right? Where they can learn and make their own decisions,” Coffman said. “They do have to have natural consequences. That’s the only way they are going to learn. So you do have to let them have some consequences but you don’t want it to be something that’s either life threatening or life altering. As a parent, you can’t allow that to happen. It’s hard as a parent to talk to your kid about sex and the dangers out there. It’s really hard to have those open, non-judgmental conversations. It may be your pediatrician, if you aren’t able to have that conversation. But someone has to talk to them. It’s too important to just ignore the issues facing our kids these days.”

Parents, want to keep your children away from predators? Then be a snoop.

That’s the advice of Dr. Coffman, who is not just talking as an expert in caring for and knowing the signs of abused children, she’s speaking as a mom.

“Parents need to be nosy,” Coffman said. “Your kids may say, ‘It’s my phone.” But you’re paying for it. It’s what I used to tell my kids growing up. If you live in my home, there is no supposition that you are going to have privacy. There is no privacy if I’m paying your bills. I have the right to go in your room. I have the right to look at your phone. I have the right to look in your backpack. I have the right to look in your mattress and in the ceiling tiles and anywhere else you might hide stuff because it’s my house. I think parents are hesitant to take that role. They are so conflicted in what’s Ok and what’s not Ok for their child’s privacy. It’s just a concern for safety. If it’s something that’s a safety issue, you have a right to know.”

Jody Hawkins, Information Security Officer at Cook Children’s, seconds Dr. Coffman’s sentiments regarding privacy of children. In presentations that he gives to parents, Hawkins cautions parents to lay down the rule early.

“This is my phone, on my plan, and I pay the bills,” he said. “If you do not follow my rules, then I stop paying for the phone you are borrowing from me. If I stop paying, the phone stops working. It’s as simple as that.

Hawkins encourages spyware to be installed on children’s phones by the parents. He asks parents, “Would you allow your child to take a stranger into the bathroom, lock the door and have no worries? They usually answer, ‘No.’ I then tell them that if they allow the child to take the phone into the bathroom with no monitoring, they could very well be doing it all the time.”

It’s the world we live in today. If you want to protect your children parents, be a snoop.

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G the Dad
Thanks so much for the support, retroactive as it is for me... I survived a very smart and private teen who seemed not to miss a chance to try everything I begged her not to. But just as much as there are clever ways for them to avoid your parental "interest", there are ways to check up on them anyway. I installed a snooping app on her PC (WebWatcher, which long ago offered an app for snooping cell phones as well) and was SO glad I did. I had to let her take some consequences that I'd rather she not have, and you find yourself choosing your battles for fear of "outing" your snooping. But as painful as it was, it was necessary and ultimately important.I did manage some clever interventions, and very timely got her - and me - to an excellent counselor. She doesn't know about the snooping to this day. Proud to say, she is now an ex-marine, carrying a 4.0 toward an Engineering bachelors degree and happily married. Most of all she is a wonderful person who is now very close and loving to her parents.Parents, keep your courage - they do get over it and it does get better.