Do you know what your teen is doing on his or her cell phone? Chances are, your teen is active on one of the many popular smartphone apps that bring people together online—and in some dangerous situations offline as well. Here are just a few of the apps that put your teens screen-to-screen with predators:
SnapChat, a “disappearing” messaging app, has quickly become a teen-favorite, with four out of every 10 teens saying they’re actively using it. Teens can take a photo or video, add text to it, choose how long it will appear, and then send it to their friends. Once the receivers have viewed it, the message is deleted, however you can always take a screenshot to save the image before it’s gone.
Although teens use SnapChat to send funny pictures or videos to friends, it can also be used to exchange sexually explicit content between users, since teens feel safe that the message “disappears”. In fact, even the FBI warned parents in 2013 that minors are incredibly vulnerable on the app, since predators can convince teens to send sexual photos under the assumption they will be deleted. In one terrifying case from 2014, a ten-year-old girl was initially contacted and harassed by a predator on SnapChat who then sent her information to other predators that soon began to contact her as well!
Tinder is one of the most well-known and popular dating apps for smartphones. Tinder users are shown images of users located nearby, and then asked to swipe right if they’re interested, and swipe left if they’re not. If two users swipe right on each others’ profiles to indicate a mutual interest, then the users will be allowed to privately communicate with each other.
Although this is marketed towards adults, teens are actively using Tinder as a hook-up app, finding new attractive people nearby and arranging to meet up in person. This app is a magnet for predators, since it gives them valuable information on where the other user is located. The number of predators on Tinder is so high, there is even a website dedicated to documenting inappropriate conversations that users have experienced.
MeetMe, an app designed to introduce people to new friends, also uses location data to match people with others nearby. It separates itself from Tinder by also including a newsfeed type feature and games that users can play in their spare time. Despite these additions, MeetMe is widely used as a dating and hook-up app by teens.
Predators lurk on location-based apps such as MeetMe to lure teens to meet in-person. The predatory crimes that occur as a result of MeetMe interactions are so high that the app was sued by the San Francisco city attorney in 2014 for not protecting minors. The lawsuit came after three sex-crime cases were reported after minors met up with predators they met through this app.
This smartphone app users cell phone data to track users’ approximate location and virtually introduce them to people nearby. Once users contact each other, they can send private messages, virtual gifts and photos. Although designed as a way to meet new, friendly faces, many teens think of Skout as a hook-up app and often make plans to meet with people they’ve met online. This can be incredibly dangerous, since predators often pose as minors on this site to lure teens to meet in person.
Even though there is a separate Skout community for teens, predators can easily get in by pretending to be a teen. In fact, in 2012, there were three separate incidents of alleged rape that stemmed from meetings arranged on Skout within just one week! In all three cases, the predator successfully pretended to be a teen in order to gain access to the minor community.
Unfortunately, apps like these are only going to continue to grow in popularity because of the high demand for new ways to digitally connect. To protect your teens from the unthinkable, it’s important to use a cell phone tracker so you can always keep an eye on where they are. Many teens may not be happy with the idea of their parents knowing where they are at all times, so start a conversation with them about the many dangers that teens face and explain that tracking their cell phone is about keeping them safe, not invading their privacy.