VIRGINIA BEACH - Many parents monitor the Facebook accounts of their children, but many aren't so watchful of Instagram.
Annette Houston got a shock when her husband picked up their 11-year-old son's iPad.
"He was scrolling through it and he said 'did you see this?' It got worse and worse," the Va. Beach mom said.
She described sexually-charged, suggestive photos, a whole bunch of them.
"She was a well-endowed lady with her boobs hanging out. Why are they sending this to my child?" she wondered.
Her son was using Instagram, an app that helps kids share photos with their friends. The pictures are usually cute or artistic, but there are nude photos and disturbing images to be found, depending on who the users are following.
"It's very dangerous and it's so dangerous for parents who don't constantly talk to their children," said social media expert Jeri Prophet.
We got together a group of Norfolk students and teenagers to talk about the app. All of them said they use Instagram almost every day because it's a faster way to type your Facebook status. They also liked that instead of posting what they're doing, they can post a picture of it.
Instagram is not supposed to be used by children under 13. But tech savvy kids can easily sign up. They just need a user name, an email and then they click through a few steps to start viewing images.
Prophet warns that what your children post is public.
"They think they're exchanging photos with their friend, but lo and behold the entire Instagram population and anyone who has Internet access," she explained.
Whatever your kids share on Instagram is often synched into Facebook and Google Images. You can stop this by making your profile private.
But there's also a safety concern. When you post a picture, others can see where you are. If you click below the photo, a map pinpoints your kids' location down to the specific street.
Prophet fears this is opening another door for sexual predators.
"Now it just makes it so much easier because they can lie about their age. They can learn where these students are frequenting and show up at those locations, chance meetings," she warned.
It's something Mrs. Houston wants to avoid, so she made sure the location setting on her son's iPad was turned off.
"Parents do want to know these things and a lot of us just don’t," she said.
Here are some resources for parents to keep kids safe online:
- Safety Web: Social Networking Safety Tips
- Common Sense: Advice for Parents
- Onguard-Online.gov Website