CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- They’re secret messages, sent late at night—messages parents never see because your teenagers have an app for that.
“It was sext talk,” said one mother who cracked the code--her teenager was sexting. “I was (shocked).”
Dr. Frank Gaskill of Southeast Psych is a child psychologist who helped NewsChannel 36 learn more about the latest app teenagers are using to hide text messages they don’t want you to see.
“Parents have to get their head out of the sand,” Dr Gaskill said.
Hidden Text is one of those apps. It’s an easy download, and it’s free.
"It tells you right here,” said Dr. Gaskin, holding a smartphone. “Type a secret message into the box above, then type hide text."
So when parents check text messages, he says, they’ll only see what their child wants them to see. Their friends who have the app will get the entire message—the sext message they don't want you to see.
Is there any way for parents to get around it?
“Don’t let your kids have this app,” said Dr. Gaskins.
That's not easy. Have you looked at your kid's apps lately? Kid have so many apps. It's hard to tell which ones are fun and which ones could be dangerous.
Dr. Gaskill said Text Free and Text Plus can also be used to hide sexting, messages and pictures from parents.
Ian Albuquerque and Molly Johnson are high school students and in the youth group at St. Matthew Catholic Church. Johnson believes underclassmen are especially at risk for making a mistake and sending explicit texts and pictures.
"They come into high school,” she said, “and want to be accepted and be seen as cool high schoolers."
Dr. Gaskill knows the dangers of trying to fit in. He pointed to a study on teenage sexting that found that one out of five teenagers has sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves. Even worse, about 40 percent of all teens have sent sexually suggestive messages.
“This is all permanent stuff,” Dr Gaskill noted. “Kids need to know what they're putting up there will stay there."
Gaskill has four big rules:
- He says kids should have a phone curfew, a time when they have to put their phone down for the day.
- They should never be allowed to charge their phone in their bedroom overnight. Too risky and too secretive, he says.
- Parents have to learn the technology their kids are using. "They can't just sit back and say, ‘I don't understand that stuff.’"
- Finally, it’s all about the talk. "I'm saying have conversations with your kids starting at age five or six,” Dr. Gaskill said. And keep talking and learning, because this child psychologist knows one thing for certain: "There's a lot of apps out there…and there'll be 10 more in six months."
In response to NewsChannel 36's story, a representative from Text Plus said it's a free app intended for users to stay in contact with friends and family. Text Plus encourages parents to check the app for a full list of messages and photos that your teen is sending.
And remember, If you want to read your child's text messages on the apps we've mentioned, you have to first find the app on their smart phone.