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Haines City Police and Polk deputies warn parents about hidden dangers on kids' social media

If you think you know what your child is saying, or who they are talking to, detectives say think again.

HAINES CITY, Fla. — The Haines City Police Department and Polk County Sheriff’s Office are teaming up to share important information with parents about their kids’ activities on apps and social media.

If you think you know what your child is saying, or who they are talking to, detectives say think again.

“There may be parents who think they are monitoring their kids’ activities. Maybe they see an app and they assume it’s a harmless app. Or some sort of game. When really it could be used for something a lot worse,” said Haines City Police spokesman Mike Ferguson.

The department and detectives from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office teamed up Wednesday during a  free workshop at the Lake Eva Events Center on Johns Avenue.

The eye-opening discussion was intended to center on hidden apps, the alternative meaning behind what might look like harmless emojis and other online activities parents could be completely unaware of.

“We don’t know what is on the phone. So, we don’t really know 100%. We’re not sure about it,” said Dina Reyes, a mother from Haines City.

Manuel Fernandez agreed. His children are still young, but Fernandez said the information is vital to good parenting.

“It’s really important to know the things they see in the applications,” he said. “The content of all the videos.”

Edith Fuentes, also a parent, said it’s up to parents to learn this sort of thing. And although it might seem nosey, she said parents need to monitor their children’s online activities.

“They think that they know everything,” said Fuentes. “And they start talking with a stranger they think it is nice.”

Detectives say parents shouldn’t feel bad about being in the dark when it comes to these things. They were too. That is until they started seeing a trend less than two years ago.

Haines City only has a total population of around 25,000, but they were dealing with nearly 200 cases of physical and sexual abuse against children.

One persistent trend surprised even them.

“More often than not, these relationships formed via devices or social media apps. And that’s kind of at the root of the problem," said Ferguson.

Unfortunately, Haines City police say they are seeing similar numbers again this year - physical and sexual abuse that’s being traced back to contacts made on digital platforms.

Their goal, they say, is to arm parents with the information they need to protect their kids.

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