Parents urged to snoop on kids' apps to stop sexting, grooming

POLICE are asking city parents to turn detective and check children's mobile phones for evidence of sexting and grooming.
Police say it's important to know what their kids are up to online. Picture: GettyPolice say it's important to know what their kids are up to online. Picture: Getty
Police say it's important to know what their kids are up to online. Picture: Getty

Facebook, Oovoo, Instagram and Snapchat have been identified as the applications most likely to be used for exchanging indecent content and messages, amid concern youngsters as young as 11 are at risk of being targeted by predators.

Parents are now being urged to save suspicious material they find by taking screenshots and photographs, and noting senders’ usernames.

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Other adults could also be asked to witness and record the content, officers said.

It is hoped this will help police crack down on groomers and the exchange of inappropriate images.

Detective Chief Inspector Alwyn Bell, of the Edinburgh Public Protection unit, said parents should keep track of who their children are befriending on social media.

He said: “Online sexual abuse can range right from indecent communication, sexualised chat, exchange of photographs right up to grooming and online extortion. The kids start by befriending these people, and then it can lead to likes, and then on to sexualised conversation and eventually to the exchange of photographs.

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“The key thing is that both children and parents know who they are befriending on these apps. We need to make sure that parents know the internet is just like anywhere people go to socialise and the risks children are exposed to.”

Last month, we reported that crimes of indecency in the Capital had increased by almost a quarter over the last year, with online incidents cited as a reason for the rise.

DCI Bell added: “Victims rarely know who is asking for the images, where in the world they are from and what will happen to the image once it’s been shared so it’s vital that kids don’t befriend people they don’t know.

“With the summer holidays approaching, it is important parents are speaking to their children regularly about who they are talking to online and what it means.”

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Police are asking parents who discover their child has fallen victim to indecent communication to block the offender online and report any abuse to the application moderator.

Alex Ramage, the city council’s parent representative, said it was crucial to understand the risks associated with digital apps. “It’s important parents are as vigilant as they can be, whether that’s unexpectedly popping in on their children every so often to see what they are doing, or checking back logs of websites they have been visiting,” he added.

“There are ways of checking without physically looking over their shoulder. Parents should take whatever action they feel is appropriate in this situation.”

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said: “We would urge parents to have an open relationship with their children about social media and reinforce why it is important not to give out personal information. It is best to have a continuing conversation with your children to reinforce dangers gently without alienating them entirely.”