Parents keeping a watchful eye on kids social accounts

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DECATUR, Ill. (WAND): Social media is changing the way sexual predators connect with minors.

"It is probably one of the most commonly asked questions in my field, parents coming in asking, 'How do I even broach these subjects?'," Heather Kaloupek, a licensed social worker, says.

Keeping an eye on your kids - whose eyes are often on their cell phones - is an ever-changing battle. 

"Everyday new apps are coming out, there's some out now that I don't even know about," Sergeant Scott Flannery, with the Macon County Sheriff's Office, says. "My kids are telling me about them. So what do I do? I go research them."

These apps are making it easier for predators to essentially have one on one conversations with kids. Often times, it's someone the kid knows.

"That's typically what happens with sexual abuse cases, it's someone that you know," Kaloupek says. "This isn't some stranger out on the internet, this is someone that you come in contact with every day. It's a family member, a coach, a trusted adult in their life."

In April, two Decatur coaches were arrested after police say they used the app Snapchat to have inappropriate contact with  14-year-old students. In both cases, the student reported the coaches to a school resource officer.

"It's scary because we know what's out there as law enforcement," Sergeant Flannery says. "But I think by educating the youth what can really happen with the predators, with the grooming, things there not really aware of - I mean it's just how someone showing them a little bit of attention can turn into something where they don't want to go down that road."

Experts have advice for parents about how to protect your kids on social media.

"Parents have the right and the legal and moral responsibility to supervise them and that means being in there phone business for their safety," Joyce Kirkland, the Youth and Family Services Coordinator with Dove, Inc., says.

"Internet safety, social media safety, cellphone use - this is just a bigger facet of communication with your kids," Kaloupek says. "Knowing who they're talking too, knowing what they're doing in their bedrooms as far as when it's night time and are they still on their phones."

"We have whats called a 'hands off' rule in my house," Sergeant Flannery says. "At any given moment I can walk up to any of my children from ages 19 to nine and say, 'Hands off!', and they have to leave their phone where it's at and I can look and see what they were doing."

They universally agree on limiting you kids screen time.

"Teens should not charge their phones in their room at night because that's when a lot of the predatory behaviors are happening," Kirkland says.

If your kid is a victim of sexual abuse, experts say to remember it isn't there fault.

"They've been victimized and I'm sure they're dealing with a lot of shame around that," Kaloupek says. "We can really stigmatize girls for, 'Ew, why is he sending that to you?' and 'What did you do to make him send that to you?'. Again that blaming the girl for this. This is an adult - these are teens, these are children. We can't always expect them to act like adults, right?"

Resources are available across central Illinois to help cope with sexual abuse.

Decatur : Dove, Inc.  

Champaign - Urbana : RACES

Springfield : Prairie Center Against Sexual Assault

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