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Most teens and pre-teens own smart phones and other mobile devices, constantly texting friends as the single venue for communication. But the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office is warning that some free applications can hold the potential for very dangerous communications, and with little evidence to be found by parents.

Investigator Mike Harris, who heads up the DA’s Child Sex Offender Internet Investigation Unit (CHEEZO), said free apps such a Textfree and textPlus work by giving phone users an alternative to traditional texting that is blocked and a parent often cannot detect.

The danger is youngsters can send“sexting” messages or naked photos without parents being able to detect the clandestine activity. In addition to possibly encouraging inappropriate behavior, these applications may open the door to even more serious consequences. One of the potential dangers is that child predators may be able to monitor and contact teens through such applications, undetected by parents. For more on the dangers of sexting, see Consequences of Sexting Should Not Be Ignored.

Harris said most parents check their children’s cell phones and messages, but the apps may be confusing to parents unfamiliar with their purpose. He stated that children as young as 11 and 12 are using these free appas to hide their communications from their parents. Harris said more than 60 percent of children in Jeffco report they have their cell phones with them in their bedrooms overnight.

He suggests that parents put curfews on the children’s use of cell phones, perhaps charging the phones in the parents’ room overnight, and he encouraged parents to talk openly with their children about their online activities. For more information, go to the District Attorney’s CHEEZO website at cheezo.org or call 303-271-6766.

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