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Colorado experts share best products, practices to keep kids safe online

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Posted at 4:13 PM, Dec 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-15 23:39:04-05

DENVER — This holiday season, as big technology companies offer deals on the latest tablets, smartwatches and cell phones, technology experts are offering parents and guardians advice on the best products and practices to keep their children safe online.

“Our flagship product is a kid's smartwatch, and we've called it the Cosmo Junior Track,” said Michelle Ross, chief operating officer of COSMO Technologies. “The features are basic, which is age appropriate. It does calling, texting, GPS tracking. It has a little camera where kids can take pictures and share them with their parents... And most important, honestly, we should mention what it doesn't have — it doesn't have access to the internet."

Ross said she was inspired to create the watch after working as a teacher and for Apple.

“There's all kinds of tracking devices for so many different things in your life. But so many parents feel like they can't get in contact with their youngest kids when it's really important,” Ross said. “Every child has the ability to call 911 from their watch. The second is a feature called SOS."

Ross explained how it works.

"A child presses the SOS feature, and it alerts their parents that they're in a situation that they want their parents to listen in on. The parents can then call the child's watch — it doesn't make any noise," said Ross. "There's geofencing safety zones where a parent can set a zone where a child is safe. And if they leave that zone, they'll immediately get a notification. And we think this is really important for a child's safety... the only contacts that can contact a child are ones that have been approved by the parent.”

Ross said the target age range for the Cosmo Junior Track is 5 to 12 years old.

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But if purchasing technology is not an option for parents who are looking to put internet safeguards in place, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Michael Harris, who leads the county’s Child Sex Offender Internet Investigations Unit (Cheezo), said there are other precautions parents can put in place.

“I mean, we don't let our kids start driving at 10 and 11, but yet we're giving them a smartphone that can access the world,” Harris said. “Time limits. If your kid's gonna have technology, limit how much time they're spending on it.”

Harris said parents and guardians should also monitor all activities.

“I had one girl that sent her pictures at 9 years old because the guy said, "Hey, I know where your friend lives. And if you don't send a picture of you naked, I'm going to go over to your friend's house and hurt her,"” Harris said. “When kids are being extorted, the first thing we tell them is, "Don't comply. You're going to dig a hole."”

Harris said victims should tell a trusted adult and law enforcement. He also said parents should try to stay up-to-date on technology and social media trends.

“Snapchat, there's the “my eyes only” feature. A lot of parents don't even know that exists, but they can hide their pictures in there and have a separate passcode for that,” Harris said. “Discord is a site for gamers, and a lot of kids are being approached on there.”

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Samuel Jay, Metropolitan State University of Denver's executive director of online learning, said having a firm understanding of how social media apps work is important.

“Staying on top of things and knowing what's out there is really difficult, especially if you're a guardian, to make sure that this is being used appropriately. And so to me, that's my biggest fear is the lack of education when it comes to using these tools,” Jay said.
Jay said parents should set boundaries but leave room for flexibility.

“Saying, "You can't do it" to me is a problem. Because if you're saying you can't use Instagram, TikTok or whatever platforms are out there, that's just going to incentivize the kid to turn it on whenever they can, right? Whether that's when they're 18 and they leave the house or whether they're doing it kind of in their bedroom behind closed doors,” Jay said.

Jay said these can be tough conversations but that’s why they need to happen.

“I've got three daughters, and they're almost 11, almost nine and almost four. These conversations are happening with the older two," Jay said.

But Jay said whether it’s built-in technology, time limits or old-school house rules, it’s up to each parent to decide how best to keep their kids safe online.

Colorado experts share best products, practices to keep kids safe online


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