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App Attacks: Keeping your kids safe from cyberbullying

WSBT 22

Bullies are targeting your kids at all hours of the day through their smartphones, tablets and computers.

They're using apps that seem harmless to get in touch with them. These apps don't require cell service. All that's needed is device connected to Wi-Fi.

Any child or adult can be a victim of anonymous bullying or harassment online. That's why parents need to make it their job to know how kids are using their devices.

"Every car that drives past you, every person that walks by you on the sidewalk, down the street or in the mall or on-campus, they could be the ones sending you these messages,” said Eric Tamashasky with the St. Joseph County Cyber Crimes Unit.

He says local police and schools get reports of anonymous bullying and harassment online daily.

Some of that communication reaches kids through free apps that give users a new, secret phone number.

Mark Geissler, a social worker at Adams High School in South Bend, says the anonymity adds an extra layer of fear.

"To be the recipient of that kind of bullying I think is worse because there's confusion about who it is. They don't know who it could be. They may not know who their friends are or who to tell,” said Geissler.

An extremely upsetting situation for vulnerable kids-- affecting academics, mental health and could even lead to physical harm or suicide.

Nadine Karner has seen how cyber bullying affects her daughter, Kendall.

"She started cutting her arms and her legs,” said Karner. "It breaks my heart."

Karner has made it a point to keep an eye on all of Kendall's devices.

"I need to see what she's doing, who she's talking to,” she said.

But that's no easy task. Overseeing an iPhone, iPad, and a school-provided Chromebook.

"They find a way to hurt each other. It doesn't make any sense,” Karner said.

The apps are always changing. So how can you keep your child safe?

"Kids have ways of hiding all this stuff. So I think the key is if you're a parent, is to have a good relationship with your kid and let them know that you're not trying to take their device away. You just want them to use it in a better way and a safer way,” said Geissler.

"It just opens up additional avenues for parents to talk to their kids about-- so you've got apps like this, what do you use them for? What's the point behind them? How does it work,” said Tamashasky.

But even then, bullies can still slip through the cracks.

If your child is a victim of cyber bullying it's important to preserve evidence-- take screenshots, close out the account and start a new one. Block the account that's harassing and contact police to file a report.

"We need the help of the victim. We need the messages. We need the diction. We need the word choice. We've got to see the names, the numbers, the profiles,” said Tamashasky.

The good news is that while these apps bill themselves as anonymous, they're not untraceable.

"My point is to tell kids that if they are a victim of this, they are not powerless. There are things they can do. And that we will help them through that process, for sure,” Geissler said.

For Karner, ending this type of bullying is personal.

"We all have to come together because it's detrimental to our community and I don't want to see your story from my kids school that someone she knows took their own life,” she said.

If your kids want a new app, make sure you are the only one with the code to download it.

Know their login and follow them. Review each app and how your child plans to use it.

Talk safety and remind them you'll be checking in.

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