As I mentioned in my post about monitoring kids social media, it is very important to look at your kids’ devices for various applications that may not be the most user friendly for kids, tweens and teens. Following is a (partial) list of apps you should question and/ or monitor closely on your child’s device.
KIK– A mobile texting app that allows users to quickly message with friends and other users at high speed, while feeling more like face to face because of pictures appearing in the chat. The app is rated for 17+ but the lack of age verification allows anyone to download and use it. The disturbing part of this app is how it allows users to chat with others simply based on username, no cell phone number needed. This seems like a bad idea, because should kids really be messaging with people they don’t know? Reviews reveal that many users use KIK for sexting with strangers sending up another huge red flag.
SnapChat– HUGELY popular with tweens and teens, this is an app to keep a close eye on. This app allows users to send texts and pictures that “disappear” within 10 seconds of being received. Users use it to send racy photos believing that the photo will disappear, however like everything posted online, we know that NOTHING truly disappears. Snapchat allows users to take screen shots which can then be redistributed. Experts worry that the “disappearing” aspect may embolden users to say or share things they may not in a traditional chat environment.
Yik Yak– This anonymous “social wall for anything and everything” relies heavily on users to do the monitoring making it a hotbed for misuse. The TOC says this app is for 17+ but when did that ever stop a younger user from downloading or using such an app especially when no personal info is required to sign up? This app is known for making is easy to bully and post hurtful comments and rumors about others. In addition it has been used to post “threats” against schools.
Ask.fm- While seemingly innocent on the surface, this interactive question and answer format app has been linked to numerous cases of cyber bullying and even suicide. While this app is more popular in Europe it has been gaining traction in the States.
Tinder– Nearly all mobile device users know Tinder; the swipe for likes “dating” app which is mainly used for hook ups. Tinder helps unite people by geographical location (danger) allowing users to find and communicate with others in their area once they have each liked the others photo. The geo-location feature and anonymity of the app put youngsters at risk of sexual harassment, cat-fishing, stalking, and more. Numerous articles and parenting sites have posted articles about the danger of this app. Definitely block this from your kids’ phones.
Instagram– As tweens and teens venture away from Facebook, leaving it more to older generations, many are heading to Instagram, a photo sharing app owned by Facebook. While filters are stronger than those on Tumblr, users may still be exposed to inappropriate content and comments. The biggest issue here appears to be “trolls” or anonymous people making hurtful or vicious comments on posts. Many “kid” users have “spam” accounts with fake names used to post content they may not want Mom, Dad or Grandma to see. Geotagging can be turned off and specific users can be blocked but users need to be sure to take advantage of these features.
Tumblr– A photo sharing/ micro-blogging app much like Instagram, Tumblr allows sharing of photos, videos and chatting. The 17+ app is often used by kids under that age which is alarming because filtering is lax making it easy to access pornographic, violent or otherwise inappropriate images. Mental health experts warn that Tumblr can be harmful to adolescents self-esteem and mental health because it shows images that glorify self-harm and eating disorders. While “safe browsing” setting are available they are not easily accessed.
Omegle/ ChatRoulette– These apps allow users to video chat with strangers and despite attempts by developers to warn users when others are using fake web cam software, users DO still slip under the radar. This could lead to a 50 year old man posing as a good looking 15 year old boy in order to try to coax inappropriate pictures or even location information from young users.
Whisper– This chat app allows users to post secrets anonymously and also allows you to chat with others in your geographical area. Obviously this is dangerous in that users, i.e. your child, may be convinced to share info with someone unknown to them by geographically very close, allowing anonymity to be easily lost.
Poof– Poof is an app designed to “clear clutter” from phone screens but in reality many teens are using it to HIDE questionable apps from Mom & Dad.
Bottom line.. parents should be looking at their kids phones regularly and if you see an icon you don’t recognize, research it! You should be using (or monitoring) the apps that your kids are using so you can keep an eye on them. You may think your kid is honest and “well trained” in internet safety but they are kids.. they stretch boundaries and make mistakes. It’s up to US as parents to guide them through this mine field.