Educators warn parents about specific apps that pose dangers to kids

(Editor's note:  Due to an error, the last three paragraphs of the following story did not print in the Wednesday, Sept. 14, edition of the Alabamian.  We apologize for this error and will run the article again in its entirety in the Sept. 21, edition.  Here is the article in its entirety.)

HALEYVILLE       -  Apps on smartphones may appear innocent to a parent, but might actually contain hidden items such as inappropriate online communications or even nude pictures.
School officials are warning parents to beware of certain apps, some of which are not bad within themselves, but can be used for inappropriate purposes.
Recently, law enforcement officials spoke to students in each grade level of  Haleyville Middle School (grades 6-8),  after a recent incident where a student sent an inappropriate picture in order to inform them of the dangers of such behavior.
Middle School Principal Bo Wilcoxson and Nurse Jamie Tucker have outlined the top apps for which students and parents should beware.   These apps are not just used to send inappropriate pictures but also to send personal information onto the web for anyone to have access.
“Number one is Snapchat,” Wilcoxson pointed out. “When they use Snapchat, the message disappears after it is read.
“It may disappear on the phone, but it is out there in the real world forever,” Wilcoxson added. “They think it’s a way to sneak pictures to and from.”
The second app which can pose a danger to students, is TikTok, where a short video, often lasting a few seconds, is posted. Users post all sorts of topics, but some can be inappropriate, school officials warn.
The third app of which to beware is Instagram, which specializes in posting only pictures.
Wilcoxson stressed Facebook would be next in line. “The worst thing about Facebook is that it is probably the most popular social media app,” he stressed.
“An adult can get on there and hide behind a child’s picture, and say, ‘this is me, I am 13-years-old. How are you doing?’ Then our kids will get in conversation, and the man is really an adult and may live far off,” Wilcoxson continued.
School officials stress that no matter what app is being used, never give out personal information or, in the case of Facebook, never accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
“All of these (apps) are good if they are used in the correct way,” Wilcoxson emphasized.
Tucker added that other dangerous apps may not be as familiar as the ones mentioned above.
One app looks like a calculator, but is actually used to store information which can be accessed by  a code.
“You can go in there and hide stuff, like pictures, but it looks just like a general calculator when you are looking at it,” Tucker pointed out.
“It’s a never-ending battle, and they just keep getting smarter and smarter,” Wilcoxson added.
“I would advise parents to look at their kids’ phones at least weekly,” he stressed. “Go through it. Look at pictures. Look at Snapchat, all of it.
“We don’t want something to happen to our kids,” Wilcoxson stressed. “When they give their address to someone on Facebook and send it out, you really don’t know who is getting it.”
Another danger with Snapchat is that the app will show by map exactly where they are located, Tucker informed.  When you find a certain friend on the map, you click on that person’s emoji and can receive step-by-step address instructions on how to get to  their location, Tucker illustrated.
A Snapchat user can set up their profile to be private so no one can see any personal or information on where they are located.
“So, if you have friended people you don’t know, all they have to do is click on there and, if you have not been made private, they can  find exactly where you are 24 hours a day,” Tucker stressed.
Wilcoxson did a search on his phone of the top dangerous apps for middle school students, and less familiar apps, such  as Discord, a game app, popped up.
“Discord is a huge place for teenagers to hang out,” said Wilcoxson. “It’s a game app, but what happens is adults get involved and there’s hate speech, porn, bullying.”
Another app of which students and adults should beware is YikYak, a messaging app for kids which has been described as an “uncontrollable environment, especially with bullying.”
Vault apps are used to hide content such as nude pictures, school officials said. Another app is Hoop, which allows persons  as young as age 12 to form connections with total strangers by swapping profiles, educators added.
“Hopefully,  with what they have learned from us, or what they have learned from the police, they will listen and understand the severity of it,” Wilcoxson said.
“This is a felony, and bad things can happen,” he added. “(The picture you send) never goes away. It doesn’t matter if you delete it from your phone. It doesn’t matter what you do. That’s always there.”


See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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