In Depth: How parents are using apps to keep kids safe on social media

July 12, 2017 07:38 PM

Keeping kids and teens safe while they are offline as well as online is hard enough for many parents. That is why some moms and dads are taking a cue from their internet savvy kids and using apps to make their jobs as parents a little easier.

"Can you trust your child to vet everyone who friends them on Facebook? I mean we don't do that as adults," said Tyler Wrightson, a hacker and the founder of Leet CyberSecurity in Albany.

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"I think this goes back to basic parenting and values and the difference between right and wrong and it can extend to social media certainly," reasoned Leslie Horn Trosset, a mom and social media expert based out of Albany.

So how can parents protect their kids on social media while they are clicking, liking and scrolling? It turns out there is an app for that. In fact, there are a number of apps on the market that allow parents to keep track of their child's internet and social media behavior.

"We use very, very similar technologies to penetrate into organizations," explained Wrightson.

Companies pay Wrighton’s firm to hack their own systems and identify security flaws, so employees like Joseph Cohen know all about cyber safety and online threats children face lurking behind those binary codes.

"They definitely have access to many more people and resources and things," acknowledged Cohen.

"I know I can't be with them 24/7 so it's about teaching the values," explained Trosset. "I have four children. They range from 14 to 22."

Navigating social media for a living has made Trosset even more aware of digital dangers.

"You know it could be PlayStation and the browsers they have. I mean it's not just social media, they can get online on anything practically these days," she pointed out.

However, there is help. Apps like Net Nanny and PhoneSheriff allow parents to supervise and control your child's social media use.

"As long as you have access to the computer or the phone, at some point and you install the software, you have more control over that device than the person that has physical access to it," explained Wrightson.

"Monitor your kids usage at home on the home computer as well as on tablets and on cell phones," advised Brian Calkin, Vice President of Operations at The Center for Internet Security in East Greenbush.

WEB EXTRA: Internet security expert discusses cyberbullying

If any of this sounds extreme, experts said parents have good reason to be concerned.

"The biggest things you have to worry about are sexual predators and here’s why: It's because they can pose as anyone and they'll tell you good stories and they'll tell you things that they know you like because you're sharing everything you like on the internet," warned Wrightson.

It is a danger that worries Trosset.

"I think children are very trusting and they often don't know whose hiding behind those profiles, so I worry about that a lot," she admitted.

Calkin said one of his favorite apps is KidGuard.

"You can literally look at all the text messages sent to receive from the device, GPS locations of where the child has been, websites they've browsed," he explained.

Calkin said these apps are helpful because kids can often be lured to dangerous websites or interactions with strangers through social media.

Another social media danger is GPS tracking. Snapchat's Snap Map allows users to share their exact location with friends or strangers in real time. You can turn it off by putting it on "ghost mode." Other social media apps have GPS location settings as well and experts say they can all lead to over-sharing, potentially with predators.

"If you find somebody who is sharing every place they visit, always checking in, always sharing photos of exactly what they're doing, that to me says that's a target that's going to be way easier to manipulate because I have way more details about that person," pointed out Wrightson.

Software products like Norton Family Premier and Eset Antivirus Parental Control allow parents to restrict overall internet use.

"A lot of these apps have features, which I think are really good as far as limiting the types of websites they can view," noted Calkin. "So they're going to filter out explicit words and terms."

Experts said the best way to protect your child on social media is by having honest conversations and educating them. 

"When you're allowing your kids to get online and talk to people, educating them on the proper practices, the risks, you know how to go about it, those things are very important," pointed out Cohen.

Trosset said she prefers this approach rather than using apps. She said it allows her to stay connected with her kids through social media as a friend or follower to both keep an eye them and preserve their trust.

"I watch their profiles as much as I can and when I do see something inappropriate, I flag it out to them and I say, ‘You know there's an inappropriate picture that I'm not thrilled about,’" she explained.

In order for parents to properly educate their children about social media, Wrightson said parents must become educated themselves. 

"I don't think most parents have any idea, the real ramifications of letting their kids use social media 100 percent," he acknowledged.

Experts said another social media danger is cyberbullying. They said people could be malicious when they think they are being anonymous.

If you feel your child is a victim of cyberbullying and could be in danger contact the police.

Be sure to visit our website,, and click on links, for a list of websites we have set up so you can check out all of the apps mentioned in this story. 

The hidden dangers of the internet can make many parents uneasy about letting their kids use social media. Apps like Snapchat, with its new feature, Snap Maps, allows anyone to see where you are, which can be a danger for your kids.

More information:

Digital defenders: Links to protect your family


WNYT Staff

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