Are you monitoring what your children do online? Experts raise concerns about popular apps

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DETROIT – Predators are taking advantage of chat features in gaming apps aimed at children and teenagers.

A teen was lured from Alabama to Houston by someone he met online. His son used an app called Discord. He has since been located and returned home.

"He's had a history of talking to older people online," his father said. "It's a gaming app that kids use, usually to play games, but there's a chat app on there."

In upstate New York, Bianca Devins, 18, was murdered by someone she befriended online.

"Something erupted and he slashed her throat. He nearly decapitated this young girl," Rania Mankarious with Houston Crimestoppers said

The cases are two separate cases, but both are linked to the gaming app Discord.

Jennifer Hohman's sons are gamers and active on Discord, which is a free voice, video and text app for teens who are older than 13.

"Discord has the ability for them to have like a chat room on their games, as well as pass information back and forth as well as strategies or moves back and forth," Hohman said.

Hohman is aware that there is a danger to the app, which allows teens to communicate with strangers from all over the world.

"You just don't know who's behind that gaming handle or avatar," Hohman said.

It's not just gaming apps or popular social media apps that parents should be aware of. Safety experts said children are more than likely using apps their parents have never heard of before.

4-Chan allows users to anonymously post images.

"It is like a Pinterest gone wild," Mankarious said. "Inappropriate language, inappropriate memes, inappropriate photos."

Tellonym boasts 10 million monthly users and allows users to anonymously ask questions to strangers.

"Think about in five minutes what your child can be exposed to on a platform like that," Mankarious said.

Hohman said she and her husband are always within earshot when their son's gaming.

"I'm looking for the conversations going on in that chat. Inappropriate words, talking about girls," Hohman said.

She also recommends warning your child about online predators posing as friends.

"If you have not met a human being in person they're not your friend yet," Hohman said.

"I think parents forget how many millions of people are out there and just kind of supervising and watching is not enough," Erca Group Inc. associate Katey McPherson said.

McPherson educates parents about digital safety all over the country. Her advice is to take advantage of apps designed to help you monitor what your child is doing.

"They tell you everything you want to know, they block access, they grant access, they read deleted texts they give you how much usage, how long they've been on a platform they give you pretty much everything you want to know," McPherson said.

She and others said Bark is the most comprehensive. It lets parents track their child's online activity on 24 different social apps and apply filters which alert them to inappropriate activities in real time.

"You can look for suicidal content, sexual content, violence. It will ping you if that type of language is coming across your child's social media platform," Rania Mankarious, with Houston Crimestoppers, said.

Parents should do research to know what apps are out there that their children could be using. Check what your children are doing and saying on those apps. Experts said children should not be allowed to have devices in their bedrooms at night.


About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.