New dangers of texting lurk in hidden apps

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New dangers of texting lurk in hidden apps

CREATED Feb. 14, 2013

Reporter: Aaron Brackett

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Most kids are good at technology, but what if the technology isn't good for them?

The world wide web was once confined to the expensive family computer shared by all members of the household. Now, most smart phones have more power than older full size computers, but what is the right age to give your kids a phone?

9OYS spoke to many teenagers that all agreed responsibility matters, but the consensus was that those responsible teens should have at least a basic cell phone.

Now, even most low feature phones have texting capability. I sat down with Dr. Lena Malofeeva of Tucson Counseling. She specializes in adolescent behavior and says texting can be quite damaging if the person on the other end has the wrong intention.
"We do know currently that sexting and psycological distress are related," said Malofeeva. "There is a clear link between sexting and things like depression, anxiety rates, and rates of suicide."

Dr. Malofeeva says parents need to monitor their children's technology use, but that can be tough amidst the flurry of websites, apps, and social networks.

Malofeeva adds, "You can become friends with your kids on Facebook and Twitter."

What about peering directly into their phone? That's where software developer Bob Lotter comes in -- he invented an app called My Mobile Watchdog.It lets parents see everything that goes in or out of their child's phone. Lotter tells 9OYS he came up with the idea after volunteering with a sheriff's department in California.

"When you tell a kid, don't talk to strangers, to them that means don't talk to adult strangers, said Lotter. "It doesn't mean don't talk to other kids that you don't know, or people that you think may be a kid. In today's smart phone world, you have people online that have this concept of anynomity, and they can pretend to be anyone they want."

According to the Pima County Attorney's Office,  Arizona already has laws in place to stop internet predators, especially those targeting children too young to recognize it.

"There are a number of statutes that cover inappropriate text messages," said Victoria Otto of the Pima County Special Victim's Unit. "If I send an image that is harmful to minors, it is furnishing harmful items to minors, and that is a crime. If I solicit a sexual interaction with a minor, that itself is a crime called luring a minor."

Knowing all of the dangers lurking in cyberspace, Nicole Schwartz agrees that its up to parents to watch out.

"I think they have to do it, we have no idea what kids are doing out there," said Schwartz. "That's your job as a parent, to keep your eye out."

If you are worried about your children's texting, Dr. Malofeeva has the top three warning signs to look for: hiding the phone when around others, refusing to part with it, and dodging questions about what's on their phone.
The experts 9OYS talked to agree parents need to talk to their children about who they're texting.