A recently retired Naperville detective and cyber crimes expert cautioned parents during a talk at Yorkville High School Thursday evening, April 12, to always check their kids' phones.
That innocent looking app could be hiding a playground for pedophiles or other predators, Rich Wistocki said.
Wistocki, an expert on cyber crimes relating to everything from teen bullying to what he called "sexploitation," spoke to a group of parents during a presentation called "Parent Ed: Cyber Guide."
The presentation was co-sponsored by Yorkville School District 115, School District 308, Hinckley-Big Rock School District 429, Plano Area Special Education Cooperative, and Sandwich School District 430.
Through his consulting firm, Be Sure Consulting out of Lockport, Wistocki teaches law enforcement how to deal with such crimes, and frequently speaks to students and parents at schools about the dangers of revealing too much online.
Wistocki has recently retired from his job as a detective with the Naperville Police Department's High Technology Crimes Unit. He has been a police officer for 30 years, he said.
At the beginning of the presentation, Wistocki talked about his background growing up in suburban Summit, Ill., where he attended Catholic schools.
"I wear my faith on my sleeve, and I really enjoy talking about my calling that I have, which brings me to you," he told the crowd, adding, "And if you don't like my religious references, I really don't care."
Wistocki encouraged parents to keep a close eye on their kids' behavior.
"There is no such thing as privacy for children," he said. "You see, your kids, all the way up until they're 18, have no right to anything. You do."
One of the behaviors that can be detected by going through kids' phones is drug use, he said. Wistocki said he does talks with a recovering heroin addict about drug use.
"If you want to know what kind of drug your kids are doing, it's right in the phone; all you gotta do is look," he said. "Kids love taking pictures of themselves smoking weed, they love taking pictures of the big bag of weed they get, they love taking pictures of the lines of heroin they smoke."
Wistocki said the average age when a child starts smoking weed is sixth grade. He said he tells parents what to look for when they're putting away their children's socks and underwear, such as cut straws, rolled up dollar bills, and marijuana cigarettes known as blunts.
Wistocki encouraged parents to drug test their kids.
"When you drug test your children when they're in junior high and high school, when they go to parties, they're going to tell their friends, 'Dude, I can't, my parents drug test me,'" he said. "That is the biggest gift you can give to your kid."
Wistocki said young kids all have access to phone apps and use them even if they are younger than 13, which is the minimum age for use set by most social networks.
"When you allow your kid to have a Snapchat, Instagram, Houseparty (app), whatever, you are telling them to lie about their age so they can have a social network," he said.
The danger in lying about their age is that they will end up networking with older teens or adults, he said.
Wistocki said parents shouldn't be friends with their kids. He said teens don't tell the whole story.
"They only tell you enough so you think they're telling you everything," he said.
He said that parents should pay attention to their instincts about their teen's behavior and should parent "as a team."
"When we talk about parenting our kids in the digital age, God has given moms a fantastic power called maternal instinct," he said. "This instinct and this power that God gives you is to protect your babies."
Wistocki talked about predators and pedophiles befriending underage kids on phone apps and talking them into sending them revealing photos or videos. He said the predator will then use those photos and videos as blackmail to make the kid make more of them, by threatening to send them to the child's friends and classmates.
Wistocki referred to such behavior as "sextortion."
He said that this is the reason parents should have a "golden ticket" where there will be no consequences for their behavior, which encourages children to tell their parents when something goes wrong online.
Wistocki recommended to parents to sit down with their children and go through their child's phone with them. See what apps they are using, who their contacts are. If the parent doesn't know the contact or they are not real life friends with the child, they should be deleted from the phone, he said.
Wistocki also suggested that parents have an "exit plan" for teens in case they are in a situation they need to get out of, like showing up to a friend's house where people are drinking or doing drugs.
An exit plan is a secret message or code that the teen texts the parent. The parent then replies with a genuine-sounding issue where they need to pick the teen up, such as a relative in the hospital, Wistocki said. The teen can then use that excuse to get out of the situation, he said.
"They can leave that place with dignity and knowing that they're not going to have any repercussions (from peers) of me not being a wuss, me not wanting to party, anything like that," he said. "Because you as a parent who is responsible for them, threw them a lifeline."