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Digital Dangers: Helping parents unmask dangerous apps kids are hiding on their phones

When it comes to kids and cell phones, parents need to know about all potential dangers. (WSYX/WTTE)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) -- When it comes to kids and cell phones, parents need to know about all potential dangers.

With so many of those popular smart phone apps children could be using, it’s important to know what’s out there to protect to kids from bullying, sexual predators and much more.

ABC 6/FOX 28 went to the experts to get vital information on what parents need to look out for and exactly how to monitor what their child is doing with those apps.

When it comes to teens, their cell phone is usually attached at the hip. ABC 6/FOX 28 spoke with Zack Jenkins and his friends at “Get Air Trampoline Park” in Hilliard. The kids were like many their age, focused on their cell phones..

“Basically, I play some games, I check social media like every 10 minutes. Every time a little notification comes up, I check just a second and put it back in my pocket,” said Jenkins.

From selfies, to music, and the ever growing list of apps, plenty of kids spend hours just clicking away.

“On a day, I probably use it for 1 or 2 hours. I usually check it a couple dozen times just to see what’s going on,” said Austin Evans.

Kids, as many parents already know, simply can’t seem to live without them.

“Mostly, it’s to keep in contact with my parents, but sometimes for games,” 11-year-old Tucker Carter said.

However, what your child is doing on that cell phone could not only land them in trouble, but serious danger as well. Fourteen-year-old Jenkins talked about a recent incident with a relative.

“A girl sent inappropriate pictures to a bunch of the boys in the school and they forwarded it on to each other and they were screenshotting it, and saving it, and my cousin got caught in the middle of it. A lot of people got suspended and punished,” said Jenkins.

Dr. Tim Conrad, along with Sgt. Don Stanko who’s served as an officer in Franklin County for more than 20 years, now work with “Digital Danger.” The Columbus-based non-profit creates prevention programming for schools, educators, law enforcement and community organizations to fight internet related crimes.

“A kid sits there and thinks, you know what bad could go wrong here? And puts something out there. Well a lot can go wrong there,” said Dr. Conrad.

Their group works to equip students and parents with the tools needed to stay safe using technology. The group is brought in by schools across the state.

“They want to make sure that kids have the knowledge base to know what is dangerous, what they should be aware of, how to stay safe,” said Sgt. Stanko.

Key number one for parents is knowing what’s out there. It’s a lot, from dating apps, to social media and even apps that help spread gossip. One of the most dangerous could be those camouflage apps, like “Spy Calc.” It appears to be a cell phone calculator, but it’s much more.

“If you click on it, it looks like a calculator, it acts like a calculator, but if you put in a certain set of numbers, which is your pass code and press the equal sign you get into where you have your hidden photos and video,” said Sgt. Stanko.

That app is certainly not the only one. More advanced apps like “Hide It Pro” are really complex. With that app, kids can even hide other apps. It's a maze of technology that can leave parents in the dark.

“One of the things that we ask parents to do is to help their kids show them how to use that phone. What is this here? What is this app for? Show me how to use that app on your phone and it gets the conversation going,” said Dr. Conrad.

Both Conrad and Stanko agree: communication is the first line of defense for parents.

“If they’re worried enough to hide the activity, then a part of them knows it’s probably not right or not healthy for them,” said Sgt. Stanko.

Kimberly Jenkins, the mother of two young boys, works to stay on top of it all.

“I try to monitor as best I can. The 14-year-old has the iPhone and I have my finger print on there and I check it all the time. I’m like 'look, we pay for the bill so, I get to check whatever is on here' and he’s like, 'okay,'” said Jenkins.

She admits though, it can be scary trying to keep your kids out of harm's way.

“I’m so glad I didn’t grow up in this age. They have so much to deal with right now,” said Jenkins.

The kids that spoke with ABC 6/FOX 28 are getting the message: what you put on the web, who you contact and the apps on that phone could put them at risk.

“Just be careful when online. people can use fake accounts to try to get information from you and stuff from you. So just be really careful who you talk to online,” said Carter. “It can be very dangerous, they could potentially try to find your address and harm you in some sort of way.”

They're tps and information plenty of youngsters need to follow. Parents are certainly heeding the warning as well.

One of the most important things for parents to remember is to know how to use every app and tool on your child’s phone. The experts at “Family Education” have a full list of cell phone apps that could be dangerous for your kids.

Click this link for more information.

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