INDIANAPOLIS — Like most pre-teens, Landry LePage is on her phone a lot. It’s a lifeline to her friends.
“She’s going into middle school. Her friends are very important, so there’s lots of group messaging, group texting. That type of stuff,” said Reagan, her mom.
But her parents are always watching.
"We had seen the horror stories and had known the worst that can happen and were worried about somebody trying to fish for the innocence of our kids,” said Joe, her dad.
Last, year police nationwide made more than 10,000 arrests for internet crimes against children. That includes predators who used social media, online games and messaging apps to pretend to be kids themselves in an effort to get inappropriate pictures or to meet up in person.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Boone County Sheriff’s Detective Jason Reynolds. He said right now, police are investigating two dozen cases in Boone County alone.
Earlier this year in federal court, a judge sentenced a man who went by the name "Brian Kil" to prison for terrorizing young victims online.
Prosecutors said he used 14 other aliases to try and get explicit photographs. If kids didn’t send them, he allegedly threatened violence.
So what can parents do?
“I think parent involvement is the number one way to protect your children,” Reynolds said.
Safety experts recommend actually checking your child’s phone and clicking into the apps. Some of those apps are disguised as something else, like a calculator. But they’re actually a way to store away secret photos and documents.
On Facebook, some parents told 13News their kids have to turn the phone in to mom or dad every night so they aren’t tempted to scroll or chat all night long.
"Tom’s Guide" reviewed parental control apps and listed those they thought were the best for android and iPhone.
Net Nanny took the top spot.
“I think it had the most features and was the most versatile,” said editor Tom Wagenseil.
He said Net Nanny delivered the best mix of filtering what shows up on the internet, showing you where your kids are located, and letting you manage the apps on their phone. It costs $55/year.
Norton Family was a close runner-up.
It also lets you monitor text messages but only on Android devices.
If you're on a tight budget, consider Kaspersky Safe Kids. It offers web monitoring, time limits and app management for free. You can upgrade for a subscription fee.
Parents also told 13News they use Bark. It manages screen time and filters websites on all of the internet-connected devices in your house – including gaming consoles and TVs.
Wagenseil said it’s always important to do your homework before you decide which app is best for you. Read the user comments and reviews.
The LePage family got help from their cell phone provider.
“They have a great family plan that offers what we feel to be extra levels of security, and we have pretty much all the control over the phone,” Reagan said.
She said she likes the program because it allows parents to approve all contacts and every app before it’s downloaded to the kids' phones.
Whatever your rules, experts say set them early, stick to them, and talk to your kids about the dangers of messaging strangers, sending pictures online and giving out personal information.
“I think ultimately it boils down to … you still are the parent and you need to be in charge and take steps to protect your children,” Reagan said.
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