Competing with cellphones, video games and television for their children’s attention is something most parents deal with daily.
But the digital wedge between parent and child can be dangerous, in no small part due to the increasing threat of online sex trafficking.
With youths especially vulnerable to online predators, Maya Jai Pinson, a 16-year-old actress and native Washingtonian, has penned and produced “I’m Ready,” a short film that tackles the uncomfortable topic of teen dating.
Maya plays one of the main characters, Lo Wells, a teen who finds herself taking an interest in more than just schoolbooks.
“I want to use this short film as a way to motivate and change people’s lives,” she said. “My purpose is to teach youth how to be more open, honest and trustworthy.”
Maya said she realizes that teens are starting to date at a much younger age with little to no regard for parental consent. Even though she has not started dating herself, she thought courting was a topic worth addressing.
“I am not ready to date yet, but I know that it can be an awkward and touchy subject,” she said.
Maya has also launched her new “Conversating Before Dating” T-shirt line, which aims to have parents and children converse before the child begins dating.
With Common Sense Media reporting that U.S. tween and teens spend an average of six to nine hours daily on social media, youth advocates say children need to be aware of the danger associated with using apps to meet people even if it “feels safe.”
“Parents should have the conversation with their child before it’s too late and make sure they are safe and not engaging in any inappropriate messaging with anyone crazy,” said Mignon Pinson, Maya’s mother and manager.
Popular dating apps such as Bumble and Hinge target people 18 and older, but underage individuals can easily gain access. Apps such as OnlyFans, however, require a photo with a valid ID and a several-days verification period which helps keep underage users to a minimum.
Nevertheless, predators no longer have to depend on the streets to get victims, and children are vulnerable if parents don’t take action, said Tina Frundt, a sex trafficking survivor and founder of Courtney’s House, a safe house in D.C. for children escaping sex traffickers.
“It can be Ward 7 or it can be in Tenleytown,” Frundt said. “It can be in Tysons Corner or it can be down the street. No kid is safe because this is about manipulation and every child can be manipulated.”
Some free and popular apps of note:
1) IMVU users chat with custom avatars. The “chat now” feature randomly pairs users with others.
2) MyLOL is where teens can create profiles, search for people, and chat.
3) ASKfm is where individuals can follow their friends and ask them questions anonymously or openly. There is a “shoutout” feature that allows people to ask if anyone near them is alone so they can hang out.
4) Skout is a friendship and dating app that is “all about protecting the magic of unexpected meetings that lead to finding new people.”
5) Omegle is where people talk about what they like and meet new people.
6) Yubo, once called Yellow, is aimed at helping people make new friends.
7) Hot or Not, also called The Game, lets users meet people in their area.
8) MeetMe is aimed at introducing people to others in their area.
9) Instagram (IG) users create profiles and post videos and pictures to bring people together.
10) Snapchat is popular for its fun filters that modify photos, videos, and even the user’s voice. Users can video chat, discover new friends, and see where their friends are hanging out on SnapMap.
Most of the apps listed above are rated 17+ due to nudity, suggestive themes, sexual content, profanity and/or drug use.
“Parents are going to have to sit down with their children, be open-minded, instill good morals, and teach your child to be responsible,” Maya said. “I hope my film motivates families to talk more effectively because miscommunication can mess up a lot of things.”
“I’m Ready” will premiere Oct. 24 at 9701 Apollo Drive in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. For more information, go to https://mjaip.com/im-ready-film.
To contact Courtney’s House, call 240-389-0317. To contact the Sex Trafficking Hotline, call 1-888-373-7888 or text BFREE (23733).