Be Careful Banning Tweens and Teens from Social Apps

An internet predator abducted a 12-year-old Baltimore girl this month and the story hasn’t gotten much attention in the national press. One element of the story is deserving of some serious discussion, in our opinion.

kik-logoIn this case, the girl left for school one day and didn’t return home that evening. Police were able to scour her laptop (which included a backup of her iPod Touch), her Xbox Live and Kik messenger accounts to trace her location to a home in North Carolina. The girl had reportedly been abducted and sexually assaulted by a man on probation for a previous assault charge.

Thankfully the girl is now back home with her family. In the course of the investigation, the police were able to recover the following conversation from her Xbox Live account between her and another user, not her abductor:

[Jane Doe]      I’m leaving this Friday and I’m going to live with some guy… I’m running away with him

[Other user]   Your just going 2 leave me like that

[Jane Doe]      It’s for the best babe… he said he was gonna kidnap me

[Other user]   ok and but he doesn’t know where you live

[Jane Doe]      um yea I told him where I live, he know my address

[Other user]   did u tell your mom?

[Jane Doe]      no because I used kik and I’m not supposed to have it so Id get in big trouble.

Apparently the mother had tried to keep her from using the Kik messenger app, and she had ignored the ban. The mother no doubt had good intentions but was unsuccessful in keeping her daughter safe.

We posted the story to the Social Networking Safety community on Facebook and one wise community member, Martine Oglethorpe, posted the following:

“I think this also highlights the importance of thinking that by ‘banning’ certain apps that your child will be safe. Sadly this girl didn’t go to her mum when she knew she was in trouble as she was more afraid of what mum would say about her hanging out on Kik when she wasn’t supposed to. To me this again highlights the fact that online safety is so much more than the technology.”

We agree 100%. Unfortunately, announcing a ban on certain apps or websites is in no way guaranteed to be effective. Kids will ignore you if they see fit, and can be extremely crafty in hiding their actions from you.

The victim in this case didn’t even have a smartphone. She was accessing Kik from her iPod Touch. Parents should take some time to see which apps are present on their kids’ devices, and have real conversations about how they are using them. It’s not enough to tell them not to do something. You need to see for yourself.



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