Area law enforcement agencies are asking parents to remain vigilant in monitoring their children’s online activities and who they are communicating with on social media.
In an effort to better prepare parents to protect their children, the Grayson County District Attorney’s Office presented the first of two presentations on sexual predator awareness Tuesday night at Grayson College. The event featured talks and discussions led by the DA’s office, Sherman Police Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas, among others.
“It is a parent’s responsibility to monitor, monitor, monitor their child’s activity online and on the phone,” Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said Tuesday.
Tuesday’s event brought out about 100 concerned parents and guardians. A second session will be held Thursday at Van Alstyne High School starting at 6 p.m., with plans to further expand the presentations if the events are successful.
Sherman Police Lt. Jeremy Cox gave an overview of four cases locally where sexual predators had attempted to entice law enforcement acting as teenagers online into performing sexual activities.
“Every one of these was in Sherman — and this isn’t all of them,” he said. While the four cases were all men, Cox said both men and women can be predators online.
As an anecdote, Smith said he worked a case in 2014 that involved an adult predator who pretended to be a teenager a decade younger in a attempt to lure a teen from home. Just five years later, Smith said Facebook has slowed down as an avenue for predators and other apps and websites have filled that void.
“Now, Facebook is a slowing trend,” he said.
Facebook remains a popular social media platform, but officials said teenagers have adopted other preferred social media apps and websites that each bring their own challenges and problems. Snapchat is among the more popular applications among teenagers, with more than 188 million active accounts, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marisa Miller said.
Snapchat is preferred over other messaging programs because it is designed to delete messages and pictures once they are viewed, which can make it difficult for parents to monitor what is being sent received.
“There truly is no way to monitor the messages your children are sending or receiving on Snapchat,” she said.
Despite this feature, Miller said these messages do not fully disappear. Outside applications exist that are designed to save messages that are sent through the service.
“When you are sending a snap, picture it on a billboard on (U.S. Highway) 75 because that is where it is on Snapchat,” she said.
Miller also said that there are other applications available out there that are designed to hide activity, messages, and other files that masquerade as other common programs. Miller advised parents to check and ensure that there are no duplicate programs of the same type on their children’s phones, including calculators, map applications and others.
Other advice that Miller gave was for parents to take custody of phones during late-night hours and instead charge them in a public part of the home. Computers should similarly be set up in an open space, she said.
Melissa Thompson said she heard about the event through her work with juvenile services and the local news. As a parent of two teenagers, she said she felt it was important to stay up to date on these trends.
“I have not really nightmares, but I think about it all the time because I have two girls,” she said.
Thompson said she has talked to her daughters about being observant and cautious about social media, but not specifically about sexual predators who use the platforms. Thompson said she learned a lot of the tricks that some teenagers use to try and throw their parents off on their online activity, including the use of multiple social media accounts.