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Online Safety Tips for Teens Using Tech

Updated on April 18, 2017

Kids Can Do Stupid Things with Smartphones

What I'm about to share with you is a 100% true story based on a special tech support case I finished up last week. While I am not using real names (for obvious reasons) everything you are about to read is absolutely real.

If you're a parent of a teenager you absolutely MUST read this article. I dedicate this article to BK, a loving and caring person who made it possible for me to make these startling discovers which led to stopping a 14 year old girl from totally ruining her life and rescuing her from further harm...

It all started with a phone call. BK, a client for ten years or more wanted my help with a very sensitive situation involving one of her best friends Abigail and her daughter Bridget. Abigail had suspected that Bridget, just 14, was taking topless selfies of herself and sending them to boys. I got involved at the point where BK and Abigail confronted Bridget who refused to give up the passcode to her iPod Touch.

Right then and there I remotely logged on to a computer at BK's house and asked her to plug the iPod in. My hunch was that I could access all of the pictures from the iPod directly over the USB connection thus bypassing the need to even login to the iPod.

Technical tip: This works every single time. Even on a passcode locked iPhone or iPod.

As soon as you plug in the iPod or iPhone to a computer with the standard USB cable just follow these screens. The last screen shot SHOULD appear first to show you this works on a passcode locked iPhone but I am showing it last to emphasize the point that this DOES work on a locked device:

Kids Can't Be in Control of Their Tech

So did my whiz-bang workaround work?

No. The pictures folders was blank. My first brick wall.

I immediately requested the iPod and the associated laptop be shipped to me overnight along with one more overture to Bridget to turn over the passcode. Bridget didn't budge.

Clearly something happened with that iPod Bridget didn't want anyone to know.

Parental Tip: iPods can be just as dangerous as iPhones in the hands of kids. This will become clear shortly. Moms and Dads need to run ALL tech through their them via parental control accounts, kid accounts, etc. These policies are already in place with Apple and Google among others. YOU need to run your kids' tech. Had Abigail been in charge of Bridget's iPod this whole thing would've been over before it started.

Kids Hardly Use Computers Anymore. That's SO 20th Century!

Two boxes show up at my office the next business day. I unpack the iPod and the laptop and get to work. My next viable theory is to sync the iPod with the laptop n the hopes of getting access to the iPod through a "trusted" laptop - the one I presumed the iPod synced to.

Turns out the iPod never synced to the laptop. Or any other computer. Ever.

Since day one the iPod was used as a stand-alone device.

Bridget's mom more-or-less told me she never used the laptop but the default option for syncing/backing up/working worth an iPod or iPhone is to use a computer. But not for Bridget. The iPod is ALL she used.

Parental Tip: Be VERY aware of what your kids are doing with their iPod/iPad/iPhone constantly. Don't assume they even use a computer any more for any serious amount of time.

OK so on to my next plan of attack. I took my battle to the cloud.

Chasing Criminals in the Cloud

iPods and iPhones almost always interact with iCloud one way or another. And this iPod was no exception. After several hours of fiddling around I finally gained access to Bridget's iCloud account. It took several hours because I first tried her mom's iCloud account - which came up empty - after fooling with three or four different email accounts.

When all was said and done I had access -- with Abigal's full permission of course - to everyone's email and iCloud accounts.

I hit a payday. I found Bridget's last two iPod backups and a lot of pictures. No iPod required. Thank you iCloud!

In the middle of downloading the first backup -- it stopped. For five solid minutes the backup didn't make any progress. So I canceled it and started it again. But I couldn't. Suddenly the login for Bridget's iCloud stopped working.

Lots of checking and probing led me to discover that Bridget obtained access to her iCloud account -- WHILE AT SCHOOL -- and then locked me out. The only possible way she could've done that is the recovery email address -- since I changed the password on her iCloud and her security questions.

So what was the recovery email address Bridget used? Abigail's. Her mother's.

SOOOO.... I accessed Abigal's email account -- once again, with her permission of course -- and changed all of her security details including password and security questions. THEN I reset Bridget's iCloud password using her mother's newly-secured email account and got back in. Bridget must've been absolutely HYPERVENTILATING at what I might find in her iCoud account....

Parental and Tech Tip: NEVER give your kids ANY access to your email OR your cell phone. YOUR email runs THEIR accounts. And your cell phone is a recovery mechanism for your email.

A few MORE hours later I had downloaded and explored both iPod backups and all of the pictures. A few pictures were somewhat questionable in terms of taste and decorum but nobody was naked.

I decide to try to reach Bridget with some sense. I email her mom a few pictures from Bridget's iCloud account. The idea was to let her know that there was no point in being stubborn so turn over the passcode. She had proof I was already into her account and there was no point in dragging this out as it would only cost more money, make her mom more upset and just drag out this drama far longer than necessary.

No go. Bridget was impossibly stubborn. She had to be TERRIFIED of what we might find on that iPod.

Abigail was absoluely furious. Bridget was basically grounded until she turned 30. With an offer of clemency and total immunity - just turn over the passcode -- she didn't move an inch.

However, the progress made so far led to a break in the case...

"How blunt are all the arrows of thy quiver in comparison with those of guilt."- Robert Blair

Although a multitude of factors were brought to bear on the problem, parental guilt eventualy hit the bulls eye.

Bridget gave up the passcode. I got into the iPod.

Scanning the latest pictures they seemed innocent enough. Lots of silly selfies. Some with those cat ears on top, some with a tongue sticking out, others just plain goofy.

I still wonder why I didn't see all of these seemingly innocent pictures on my first attempt to access the iPod. Perhaps Bridget applied some even deeper level of security I wasn't aware of?

Then I hit the deleted pictures. And what I saw hit me harder than a heavyweight boxer going for the knockout. Me? I wasn't prepared for what I found. Picture me with my guard down and heading for the canvas.

I hit a double shot of Jack Daniels as I started recovering the 650 or so pictures that were set to be deleted. I had to work fast, some of those pictures could go at anytime. There's a 30 day countdown on deleted iPod/iPhone/iPad pictures and many of those pictures were hitting their expiration date.

I got them all back. I did the police a favor in preserving evidence that would end up being used in the criminal investigation of all the different men. And if justice is to be served it will end up with their criminal prosecution and conviction as well.

What Bridget was doing on her phone went way beyond silly selfies. She was performing. There were videos of her performing sexual acts that females twice her age or more would never think of doing. She was full on sexting and the men responded.

All told I spent some 50 hours on this project and at some crazy hours -- sometimes I'd start working at 5 AM and other times I wouldn't stop until after 1 AM.

What the iPod could not reveal - but Bridget chose to on her own - is that she had sex with a 20 year old man. Abigail felt terribly guilty and feels like a failure as a parent. I consoled her and did my best to relieve some of her burden by letting her know that not nearly enough parents have a handle on what their kids are doing with technology.

Through parental intervention Bridget is now living a tech-free life so she can start becoming a 14 year old again.

Parental tip: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Online Safety Tips Summary

  • NEVER allow your kids to apply passcodes, passwords or PIN codes to any tech they use. Teens aren't bankers, stockbrokers or FBI agents and have no reason to use security -- unless they have something to hide.
  • ALWAYS maintain parental controls over any kid's accounts -- iCloud, Gmail, etc. As a parent you must have total access to the accounts your kids use -- even if they don't want you to have that access.
  • CHECK on what your kids are doing with their iPods, iPads, iPhones or Androids, laptops, etc. every single day. Let them know you care about them and are concerned with what they are doing. This also sends a message that mom and/or dad is always watching and always vigilant.
  • MONITOR kids online activities. Whenever possible make sure kids are only online in the presence of an adult. It's a bad idea to let teens use their tech behind closed doors because you never know.
  • INSTALL monitoring software on every tech device a teen uses. It's fast and easy and inexpensive and allows you to check on what your kids are doing at all times.

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