Teens, phones and social media: experts share their safety advice
Already facing state-level sexual assault and pornography charges, Alex Asino targeted new victims while on bail and under electronic monitoring, according to Anchorage Police and the FBI. Investigators say the Anchorage man used social media apps and dating websites to find his young targets.
In part one of this two-part series, KTUU looked at how an accused child sexual predator could so easily make bail and avoid house arrest. In Part 2, experts share thier advice on keeping teens safe as they become cyber citizens.
Cyber citizenship is a part of modern life, connecting people with ease.
But "oftentimes those other users and those environments are environments that are unmonitored, unsupervised and it can lead to dangerous information or dangerous circumstances for our kids," Sgt. Aaron Whitt with APD's Cyber Crimes Unit told KTUU.
Through apps and online, investigators say Asino targeted teens for sex, trading it for money, drugs, cab rides and other gifts. During the encounters, police say he secretly recorded the teens, creating pornography he uploaded to websites.
To find victims, Asino used familiar apps and sites: Snapchat, Whisper, Tagged.com, Facebook, Craigslist, KIK. Other social media he used may be less familiar: Skip the Games, Plenty of Fish, Seeking.com.
Cyber detectives won't say the apps themselves are bad. But they emphasize that the unmonitored use of apps can lead to trouble.
"No device should be in your home that you are not able to maintain control of, that you have access to. There shouldn't be a device in your home that you don't have the passcode to," Whitt said.
Teens are capable of many things and often make good decisions, but because they are not yet grown they still benefit from adult guidance, Whitt said.
"We know that when a child wants to learn how to drive we don't hand them the keys to the car, hand them a license and say good luck don't hit anything. We know that it takes a tremendous amount of education. It takes a tremendous amount of practice," he said.
Joshua Wayne, a teen and family expert, offers another way to think about it.
"The thing with tech is that once most kids get a taste of it, it's kind of like sugar. Once they get a taste, it's all they want. And a lot of them just won't set limits on themselves, so what's really incumbent on us as the caring adults in their lives is to set limits," Wayne said.
He agrees with Whitt that apps aren't necessarily bad or dangerous, but that bad habits in the way they are used can create dangerous situations.
"I think that to me technology isn't the problem. The real problem is moderation. The real problem is limits. The real problem is helping guide them to make smart decisions as they are growing into full-fledged digital citizens," Wayne said.
Their combined advice?
Be tech-savvy: learn the device's features and the purpose for apps and monitor use.
- Family technology Agreements: Set them up before you introduce a new device into your home so everyone has an understanding of expectations and limits.
- Logins and Passwords: As parents, keep these for every deveice, every app, every website your child uses.
- Set time limits: keep phones and computers out of bedrooms overnight, and limit how much time during the day can be spent on apps or online.
- Talk as a family: building a solid relationship now will help make it easier for your child to come to you if they need help or have questions. They may not tell you every day-to-day thing, but the goal is that they know you are there and will help when it matters and that they will come to you when problems arise.
Finally? Some good news for non-techie parents. You don't need to be a tech guru to be effective, because you have a secret weapon to deploy.
"Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story. Every kid needs that one caring adult in their life. At the end of the day there is just no substitute for it," Wayne said.