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Authorities encourage open, healthy conversation about social media dangers with kids

Updated: Apr. 20, 2021 at 11:02 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - Following the alleged sexual assault of an Alabama teenager at the hands of a Tyler man, authorities are reminding parents of the dangers that come with social media.

“For parents, the more information, the better,” said Andy Erbaugh, Public Information Officer for the Tyler Police Department.

“You don’t want to scare them,” said Emily Gerhardt with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County. “But we do want to keep them informed and have an open and honest conversation about what is going on on the internet. There are some great things about it, but also some not so great things.”

And while Gerhardt said most abuse and assault cases involve people closest to a child, situations involving strangers and social media do happen, and did this past weekend involving a Tyler man and a teenager from Alabama.

“It’s really easy to pretend to be someone you’re not online. So we always stress if you’ve never met them in person, been able to talk to them in person, reach across the table and give them a handshake, we’re not 100% sure they are who they say they are.”

And while talking to an underage person isn’t necessarily illegal, there is a line that predators are willing to cross. It’s why both Erbaugh and Gerhardt say keeping an eye on those conversations could help protect your child.

“You can look at your child’s device,” said Erbaugh. “You’re the one who pays for it. Don’t be afraid to look at their text messages or browser history, and don’t just look at their text messages, they use messaging apps. And there are messaging apps all over that I guarantee parents don’t know about.”

And in the case involving the 13-year-old Alabama girl, those online chats turned into a real life interaction, in which police say the man held the girl against her will for days. A dangerous situation that authorities started with messaging on apps like Instagram and Discord.

“If there’s a real concern about something going on with your child,” Gerhardt said. “Then by all means you need to take up that phone, get that information, and contact authorities to make sure your child is safe.”

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