GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you’re not sure you’re doing enough to restrict your kid’s internet access, a West Michigan youth pastor wants one hour of your time.
“I will show you step by step what you have to do to figure it out,” said Chris McKenna, director of middle school ministries at Cornerstone Church in Caledonia. “I want to save them time. So here’s well over a hundred hours worth of research that I’ve done for you, mom and dad.”
McKenna has made it his mission to stay on top of the newest social media apps kids are using so parents don’t have to.
In addition to his duties as youth pastor as Cornerstone, McKenna compiled a guide for parents that explains apps kids are using, as well as the risk associated with each of them.
The Digital Kids Guide for Parents, which McKenna updates quarterly, also includes a breakdown of parental filtering and monitoring products, and step-by-step instructions on how to install them.
>>PDF: Digital Kids Parent Guide
The newest version of the guide includes risk assessments on 17 apps popular among kids, including kik — a texting app that was the subject of a Target 8 investigation.
It was a call to Target 8 from a West Michigan mom that tipped our investigators off to the dangers of kik. Mechica Smith wanted us to warn other parents after her 10-year-old daughter started receiving unsolicited pornographic images on the kik app on her phone.
Federal authorities in West Michigan told Target 8 they’re seeing a growing number of sex crime-related complaints involving young victims that were reached through the kik app.
“For middle school (kids), I’m down on both kik and Snapchat,” McKenna said.
The youth pastor says both apps are too hard for parents to monitor, partly because they’re phone-only apps. Also, the lure of Snapchat for many kids is the idea that the picture “disappears” after six seconds.
“But that’s not true,” McKenna pointed out. “There are so many ways to capture that image and turn it viral in an instant.”
As for kik, McKenna said the app’s extra features make it risky for kids. The app, which is rated age 17+ in the app store, has a web browser and several sub-apps within it, making it easy to hide inappropriate texts and images. Also, adults often use it to sext with strangers.
To make matter worse, McKenna said kids are innocently posting their kik user names — with hashtags — on Instagram for all to see. The username is all a predator needs to message your kid on kik.
“What hashtags have really done,” explained McKenna, “is that they’ve taken all the hard work away from someone who has bad intent. We’ve created a sorting mechanism for them to find certain themes of things.”
McKenna is trying to level the playing field now by helping parents stay up-to-date on internet threats to kids. He also hosts a Facebook page where he answers questions and offers advice on how to secure devices and desktops. If you want to check out the Digital Kids discussion on Facebook, just click on the “join group” button.
McKenna will answer your questions live on the air on Tuesday, Feb. 3 during the 6 a.m. hour of “24 Hour News 8 Daybreak.” If you have a question you’d like McKenna to answer, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
McKenna also does internet safety presentations for parents. His next event is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 3 at Rockford Christian School, which is located at 6060 Belding Road NE in Rockford. The presentation is open to the public.