Authorities urge parents to keep close eye on kids’ Web activity

Parents, do you know if your child is using Snapchat? How about ask.fm?

You should.

No longer do parents just need to know their children’s best friends and hangouts. They also have to keep track of their teenagers’ online lives, where bullies, bad examples and temptations abound.

“We have to change the way we think about parenting,” said Corey Bourgeois, section chief of the digital forensic lab in the Louisiana Attorney General Office’s Cyber Crimes Unit. “You have to learn what the kids are doing and where they are going online.”

Nearly all teenagers use the Internet, and most — 74 percent — are mobile Internet users, accessing the online world through cellphones, tablets and laptop computers, according to data from the Pew Research Center. One quarter of teens access the Internet only through smartphones.

When teens connect through mobile devices, they rarely have adult supervision.

Navigating that world can be difficult, Bourgeois said. Online bullying can easily damage a teenager’s self-esteem. Sexual predators use social networking to find their next victims. Teens unwittingly commit crimes by sending one another provocative photos.

Parents should stay informed of the smartphone applications and Internet sites their children frequent, Bourgeois said, even as new apps and sites are developed regularly.

“Learn everything you can,” said Darrell Miller, a digital forensic examiner with the Cyber Crimes Unit. “It’s not going to get any easier. It’s not going to stop.”

Bourgeois and Miller offered these tips for parents of connected teens:

Don’t allow children to keep computers in their bedrooms. Put them in a centralized place in the home with plenty of foot traffic.

Invade your children’s privacy. “Parents, do not be ashamed to look through your kids’ phones at the end of the day to see where they’ve been,” Bourgeois said.

Look for what’s not there. If there are no texts on a teen’s phone, ask why. Many teens communicate regularly through text.

A lack of messages often means they’ve been deleted, Bourgeois said.

Know your child’s passwords and screen names for email and social networks such as Facebook.

Don’t be afraid to use them and check up.

Periodically review teens’ Internet browser histories to see where they’ve been.

Most importantly, Miller said, “Get to know your kids.” Tracking your teen’s Internet habits is no replacement for a trusting, open relationship.