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FOX 45 Investigates: Social media safety for kids

Experts warn parents about kids' use of social media, internet. (Photo: MGN Online)

MIAMI VALLEY, (WKEF/WRGT) - Do you know what your kids are doing online? What apps are they on?

Experts believe you'd be surprised at what your kids are being exposed to, and what it's driving them to do.

A post here, a tweet there; it's harmless, right?

Not everyone sees it that way.

"I have a 9 year old, I have a 13 year old, and I have a 15 year old," said Ginger May, a parent with Dayton Christian Schools.

May was one of dozens inside a Dayton Christian auditorium, learning what her kids are doing, and what they're looking at.

Katie Reynolds headed the discussion. Reynolds oversees the Guidance Department. She knows parents fear what they don't know is out there. The night's topic was also a tough pill to swallow.

"I think when people hear pornography and sexting, they think ,'That's not my kid. My kid would never look at that. They would never send a nude photo of themselves'," Reynolds said.

According to Reynolds, more than half of high school students have been asked to send naked photos, and 28 percent actually have. With apps that help students hide suggestive content, it leaves a difficult balance at home.

"I don't want to completely take them out of it," she said.

"Also still trying to be that nurturing parent, and protect them at the same time," May continued.

"It's continual because they're constantly posting, and they really do care what people think about them," Reynolds added.

The social platforms aren't the problem, Reynolds said. It's the emotional ties to views and likes that drives kids over the edge. There's dangerous dares, like the recent Tide Pod challenge that asked kids to eat laundry detergent. Peer pressure can push kids into suicide and violence.

In May 2014, two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls stabbed a classmate 19 times. They told investigators that they did it to please an online character called "Slenderman." Both were sentenced to a mental hospital, and the case proved how easily kids are influenced on the internet.

"It is very scary," May told FOX 45's Shavon Anderson. "You never think it's going to happen to you, or to your children."

So, how can you watch what's happening in your home?

"Just being made aware of what they're using, of how they're using it, and who they're using the social app with," May suggested.

Experts tell parents to look at each download in-depth, checking for third-party content in apps and online. Also enable filters if possible.

"There are things that pop up that if he were to click on one area or another, it could be detrimental, lead him down the wrong path," May said about her son.

"What are the privacy settings?" Reynolds asked. "Make sure they're keeping things private and not public, making sure they don't have their location services on."

The most important way to protect your kids is communication and honesty. Reynolds told parents to be honest about what's out there, building trust so they can make their own healthy decisions.

There are devices like "Disney circle" that connect to your home WiFi. Parents can monitor what sites and apps their kids visit minute-by-minute. Other parents suggest setting limits for how much screen time kids get, and keep records of all their passwords.

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