There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps available for us to download to our smartphones and tablets. The choice is incredible with apps for all kinds of things, from keeping us organised with shopping lists, travel lists, find a quote, manage our business, play a game, apps to find a date (or meet a stranger) , to apps that tell you when its a good time to go to the bathroom during a movie (yes the pee app exists).
The amount of time we are spending on apps is increasing with many spending over 30 hours a month using apps (nielson 2014) so it seems we are becoming increasingly reliant on using apps to manage our lives.
The question I would like to put to you is whether you supervise (or ever check) the applications that your children/teens are using?
Perhaps you do try and keep on eye on what they are doing, but find it hard to work out which apps are safe and which are not? You are definitely not alone on that front! How are we supposed to keep up to date with so many new apps appearing?
In this post we give you some tips to consider so that you can begin to understand what your child is doing with their mobile device, and then we list the apps we are most concerned about when it comes to children, tweens and teens.
9 tips to consider
- Talk to your child – they will tell you what the latest, greatest and most popular app is
- Use the conversation as a lead into having a look on your child’s device together to see what they have loaded.
- Ask questions about what an app is for (chat, game, dating)
- Ask your child if they understand the privacy or safety aspects
- Check the age ratings of the apps they are using the most? Are they suitable?
- Given the purpose of a particular app, it is suitable for your child (for example a 10 year old with a dating app)
- Keeping your child involved in the discussion, remove apps which may be putting them at risk.
- Apps which require only user names don’t really protect your child, they can act as a shield for less savoury persons and make it harder to determine who is behind the name. Whilst some people feel having a user name protects identity, this doesn’t always work in real life. Anonymity allows bullies and trolls to hide behind a user name.
- Don’t allow FOMO (fear of missing out) to cloud your judgement when helping educate your children on app safety. Just because they say a lot of their friends use it, that doesn’t make it safe (and often you might find they actually are not using it at all).
Apps which can put your child/teen at risk
KIK: A free instant messenging app which requires the use of a user name. It is rated for users 17+ years of age, yet I am aware of children aged 8-12 using Kik.
KIK has been noted by the Australian Police force as one of the apps used by sexual predators for “grooming” young people. It is not just a messenger app due to the fact that is has integrated a browser into the message capabilities to enable easier sharing. This of course immediately opens up the risk of inappropriate material being shared. (Previously Kik used “cards” to bring in content). With over 100 million users we should be concerned just what the app is being used for and the risks to our children. Users can pose as teens, men as girls or women as boys in order to make connections with young people. Sexualised content is frequently found on KIK.
It is very difficult to monitor what is being said and shared on KIK as there are no records to review and threads can be quickly deleted.
Many complementary apps allow access to data. Kikfriends lets you find user names, therefore exposing our young people further to risk, as does integrating the app with Instagram. Sharing KIK names is popular, you may see posts which say “kik me @” or what’s your kik name? This is a dangerous practice as it allows strangers to connect more easily.
You can read some parents experiences on Commonsense media here.
Tinder – ages 13+
Tinder is a “hook up” app. It is primarily an adult site using location technology to allow users to find people close by. They can then choose if they like the look of the person. If the other person also likes the look of them, then they are able to chat, and of course meet up. It must be a two way connection. It has been described as the “site to find sex”. There is a huge risk to young people by sexual predators given the app narrows location down to around one km. Provided your child hasn’t lied about their age, those under 17 cannot engage with adults, but of course this cannot be monitored where someone has entered an incorrect birth date. Tinder is the only app of this kind open to under 18s. Other similar apps (rated 18+) are OK cupid, Grindr and Blendr.
Snapchat has been around for while and sexting is the biggest issue we see facing teens with this app. The app operates in a way that images are supposed to only display for a “snap” , but because of this the temptation to take nude pictures is pretty high. Recently over 90,000 images were copied from snapchat via a hack into a third party app. Called the snappening, the hacker released images including user ids. Many of these pictures were of naked or semi naked teens. Third party apps can be downloaded which can grab the images before they disappear. We wrote about snapchat in 2012 if you would like to learn more. We do recommend that if your teen is using snapchat and you cant get them off it, perhaps start using it yourself and make sure you are connected to them. This seems to work with many teens to help them think about what they are posting and why. (While we are at it, ask them just that.. what are they posting and why?).
Omegle is all about connecting with and talking to strangers. It is also rated 17+ (in Australia) and has strong adult sexualised content. Check ratings for other countries but their website says not to be used by under 13s and that under 18 need parental permission.
This app concerns me the most as it is all about connecting with randomised strangers both via chat and video. It’s one to one interaction and its anonymous (until you tell it otherwise). There is strong adult themes and language and cyber sex is rampant on this platform. It is possible to connect a facebook account which immediately removes another layer of safety. Omegle does have “no perverts” statement, but with a site and app such as this the risks are extremly high for young people to be exposed to inappropriate contact and content.
I would consider blocking this site for under 16’s at a minimum.
Meow Chat- rated 12+ for mild sexual content/nudity/profanity
This is a combination of a chat app and a meet up app. It uses location based technology to tell you who is nearby and offers for you to select (a bit like the hot or not Tinder selection) to potentially chat with and meet up with. You can also go for a global search and chat with people anywhere in the world. On one had I’d like to say it’s the modern communication version of a penfriend – meeting and connecting with people from all over the world can be a wonderful experience. This problem is again with the tendency towards sexualised content and the dating aspect. Having a 12 year old or younger meet up/hook up with a stranger is not something I feel comfortable with. I am concerned at it’s low rating as apparently sexual content and nudity seem to be now considered fine for our young people. I would like them to have a chance to develop their cerebal cortex just a little more before throwing them into the online dating/chat/meetup world personally.
A previous post about meow chat may be read here.
Apps you thought were safe
Seems like a harmless photo sharing app, but of course as with all tools for some it can be manipulated. Instagram is for ages 13+ . There is a lot of peer pressure to have tweens and younger on instagram (often driven by parents who create sites for their own toddlers etc), but as with all apps, we need to look at the maturity level of the individual child, their resilience and as parents, try to preserve their innocence as childhood is a fleeting moment in life. For the most part Instagram can be a very creative space and for those of use who are visual it’s a wonderful platform. However there can be a dark side. Instagram can be used to connect to other apps and by doing so, reveal the person behind a user name. We all want to keep our youth safe and away from predators, so again, it’s about having conversations and making sure that we know who we are connecting to online.
Another risk is the obsession with selfies. For some teens they can become quite psychologically affected by comments (ok lack of comments) on photographs they post of themselves. Self esteem can take a bashing which is sad because this is superficial. It is normal for teens to seek validation, but when it is totally based on looks, and not personality and the whole package then this is when we start to see some damage. Bullying and trolling can come into play here. Talk to your teen about how they feel when using apps such as Instagram. If it’s fun and they enjoy it that’s great, but if they are finding themselves being affected by the comments, then it’s a great time to open up the conversation, and if necessary seek professional advice and help to try and minimise damage to self confidence and self esteem.
Many parents I speak with see Yik Yak as a fun posting app, but in actual fact it is fast becoming the most rampant site for bullying, pranking and cruelty. It has a voting/points system for “awesome yaks” which of course can act as an incentive to try and get the most controversial post. It allows you to post and search for apps within a particular radius of your location. This makes it extremely attractive to teens in High School and College. Again it’s anonymous user ID’s seem to promote the idea that behind a “mask” one can be forget respect for others totally. Reports of threats of violence, bombings, and sharing of sexual content and “paybacks” are being reported. Parents this app is also rated 17+. Principals and teachers are reporting a rise in cyberbullying with this app.
Various Gaming Apps:
There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps which involve play, and for the most part you might feel they are simply fun and/or educational. What we ask parents to consider is purchasing paid versions to eliminate advertising (rather than using free versions which may take players off game to inapprioprate sites, or have inappropriate banner ads) and also to consider apps which are constantly enticing players to upgrade or purchase new features. For some of our youth this is in fact grooming a new generation of gamblers. If your child is highly competitive or has an addictive personality in particular, please have conversations with them about how they are playing and try and keep it fun.
Just a quick word about age ratings. These are of course given as a guideline in regards to use of apps. It is important that parents consider the individual maturity of their tween/teen when considering whether an app is appropriate and whether perhaps it should be removed. The issue with age ratings is that there really is nothing to stop anyone uploading an app and just saying “yes I’m old enough”. We highly recommend adjusting phone settings so that apps of inappropriate rating cannot be downloaded without access to a password (and that the parent should control that password initially until they feel their child has obtained maturity and/or age to hand over their independence).
For more information you may like to read our guest post at Happy Parenting on Mobile Apps and the Traps.
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