The last thing mum-of-three Sonja Bouw expected to find on her daughter’s iPad was explicit content.
But that’s exactly what happened when Sonja discovered a strange man sexting her seven-year-old daughter, Allegra, via a popular pre-teen music app.
The former Melbourne woman, who now lives in Chicago with husband, Matthew and their three daughters, took to Instagram this week to share her story.
Using Instagram Stories, Sonja rehashed the events of Saturday morning which have left the family shocked, shaken and far more aware of the sinister side of social media for kids.
The sinister side of Funimate
“This is not an easy post for me to talk about,” Sonja begins in her Instagram story. “On Saturday morning I went downstairs where the girls where playing. Allegra was on her iPad, as I walked over she quickly closed it up.”
Recognising that this wasn’t ‘normal’ behaviour for her daughter, Sonja asked to see the iPad. “When I asked her what she was doing, she started freaking out.” Opening up the iPad, Sonja quickly realised why.
Allegra has been using the Funimate app which allows users to create ‘awesome videos’ that they can save and share. “Allegra loves to sing,” says Sonja in her Instagram story. “This app’s purpose is to create your own little video clips. I had no idea it had messaging functions in it.”
The messaging function is where Allegra had run into trouble. “When I took the iPad from her and opened it up, there were messages on there from another user,” Sonja recounts.
“It escalated pretty quickly from ‘hi beautiful’ to ‘do you want to be my girlfriend’ to something far, far worse. She went and hid in the corner, she was crying hysterically begging me not to tell anybody because she thought it was her fault,” a tearful Sonja says.
“This is not okay, this is not cool. I feel like I’ve failed as a parent. I feel like I should have been all over this. The girls’ iPads are synced to my phone but clearly this shit can still happen.
“I beg you, please. Just check your children’s iPads. These sickos are everywhere and they will find a way.”
Sonja now wants to spread the word about the app and just how easily our kids can be exposed to this kind of behaviour. Her daughter’s experience is similar to what recently happened to another child using the popular Musical.ly app.
Protecting our kids online
As our kids spend more and more time online, monitoring their internet usage and interactions can be difficult. The Australian Government has produced a number of resources, available through the iParent website to help parents manage their children’s screen time and kep it a positive experience.
The Parents Guide To Online Safety has the following general recommendations:
- Stay involved in your child’s use of technology.
- Set up your own account and learn about privacy settings
- Advise children to set their accounts to private so that the only people who can view their information are those they trust.
- Encourage children to think before they put anything online and to be respectful of others.
- Remind children to be careful when making new friends online. People may not be who they say they are. They should never arrange to meet an online friend unless a trusted adult is with them.
- Put in place online safeguards and parental controls-settings, filters and products that help block certain content so that you are better able to protect what your children see online.
- Remember that no single parental control tool is 100 per cent effective. Some content and sites
can be encrypted in such a way that they are not recognised by parental controls, or a tech-savvy child may have the ability to bypass parental controls.
Establish and maintain trust. It’s hard to monitor your children’s online activity at all times so trust is important.
For more information about cyber safety – and if your kids use internet-connected apps on their iPhone or iPad or play online console games – take another look at our guide to keeping children safe online.