Everything you—or your children—do online can be traced back to you.

Imagine there is a knock on your door, and you are greeted by local law enforcement. The officers notify you that they are investigating a child pornography case and you are the main suspect. What would you do?

Here’s one scenario: A group of kids at a sleepover, playing on their devices, decide to make racy videos with little to no clothes on and post them on an app for the general public to see.  They make sure their faces aren’t in the video, thinking it will keep them from being caught. Law enforcement traces the videos back to the home of the sleepover. Before the children admit to creating and posting the videos, the owners of the home--you--are the suspects being investigated.

What led police to your home?

A lesson on IP addresses

An IP address is an internet protocol address.  It’s a string of numbers assigned to each device (computer, smartphone, etc.) connected to a computer network. No two devices have the same address. In more basic terms, an IP address is like the return address on an envelope. Everything posted online using that device is attached to that IP address and can be traced back.

Most apps try to monitor the content being posted, but some things slip through the cracks and are not removed immediately, sometimes never. Especially apps with a high volume of content being uploaded, like YouTube or TikTok. The videos in our example remained on the app for an extended period. Sadly, they were watched by a number of people and not reported immediately. Eventually when they were reported, the app took them down and alerted the Center for Missing and Exploited Children who eventually traced the IP address back to the home where the videos were created.

Parents, please understand that you could be held responsible for what happens on the devices in your home. You need to understand how devices and apps work. (We can help!) Explain to your kids that what happens on their devices can be traced back to you, even if they delete the post or use a fake name on a social media account. I like to remind the kids in my practice that law enforcement can use the posts as evidence against them. It’s no joke.

Kids live in the moment. They often don’t think about the future or how their actions can impact them or others. But their online activity can come back and haunt them, and you. If they aren’t comfortable with you seeing what they’re posting, they probably shouldn’t be doing it. And if law enforcement can use it against them, they definitely shouldn’t be doing it.

FYI: Kids can get around using your network and IP with a VPN and a proxy but that is a topic for another post to come…

If you are interested in knowing what your IP address is

Here's how to find it:

  1. Open settings on your device.
  2. Tap on WiFi
  3. Tap on the name of the WiFi network being used
  4. Scroll down to find the IP address of your device

P.S. Never share your IP address with anyone or post publicly! 

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.