Do we know what our kids are doing online? I think most of us want to say ‘Yes’ and at least believe that we do. But if you think texting, Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Instagram are all that our kids are using and you know all about them, then think again! Do you know what Voxer and Omegle is ? Or Kik or Yikyak or Vine… Maybe not, right? Well, you are not alone! Parents need to get up to speed with some of these popular apps that our teens could be possibly using to connect with friends. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 95 percent of teens between 12 and 17 use the internet, 27 percent of this group uploads video, and a whopping 80 percent use social media sites like Facebook either on phones or the computer. Many parents think these sites or apps are just innocent ways of keeping in touch with friends and peers. Your kids may be downloading apps that you think are innocent and just a simple way for them to keep in contact with their buddies, However, we need to educate ourselves and our kids about how these sites can become potential venues for inappropriate behaviors and turn into flirting and sexting sites surreptitiously.
Take a look at some of these increasingly used apps and sites –
1. KiK Messenger : This is a private messenger app used increasingly by those under 18 that allows kids to send private messages that their parents can’t see. There is very little you can do to verify the identity of someone on KiK, which obviously poses the risk of sexual predators chatting with your child.
2. Yik Yak : It is touted as ‘the anonymous social wall for anything and everything’. Users are anonymous and their posts, called ‘Yaks’ show up in a live feed for other users. Although approved for use by 17+ age groups, younger users are starting to get their hands on this app and using it to post hurtful comments and spread rumors. All in all, an app for cyber bullying.
3. Whisper : Whisper lets users set up anonymous accounts to make their messages or confessions overlap an image or graphic, which other users can then “like,” share, or comment on. It has the potential to quickly fill up with abusive content. What’s even more dangerous is that the app also shows the user’s location!
4. SnapChat: This commonly used app allows users to send photos that will “self destruct” within 10 seconds, encouraging kids to feel more comfortable “sexting” with peers. What kids need to realize is, the users can take a screen shot of the images before it ‘disappears’.
5. Vine: Vine is Twitter’s mobile app that allows users to shoot and share short loops of video (6 seconds or less). It’s rated 17+, but teens are still downloading it. With the most basic creative searching, kids can find nudity, sex, drug use, offensive language, hardcore sexuality, and more on this site. Vine can be used for a lot of creative videos that range from benign to nefarious!
6. Ask.fm : This one lets kids ask questions and answer those posted by other users, sometimes anonymously. It is more popular in Europe but catching on in the U.S. It’s coming under attack for intense bullying and has been linked to suicides recently.
7. Voxer: This walkie-talkie PTT (push-to-talk) app allows users to quickly exchange short voice messages. Hurtful messages from cyber bullies can be even more distressing when they’re spoken and can be played repeatedly.
8. Omegle : It’s more of a video chat app where you do not identify yourself through the service. Chat participants are only identified as “You” and “Stranger”. You don’t have to register for the App. However, you can connect Omegle to your Facebook account to find chat partners with similar interests. There is a high risk of sexual predators connecting with the children on this site who can lure the kids to divulge personal information.
9. Down : This app is connected to Facebook. Users can categorize their Facebook friends in one of two ways: they can indicate whether or not a friend is someone they’d like to hang with or someone they are “down” to hook up with. The app’s slogan-“The anonymous, simple, fun way to find friends who are down for the night” should be warning enough for parents!
10. Poof : I personally think that this is ‘a master app’ that enables teens to mask their online activity. It’s an app that hides other apps with one touch. All your child has to do is open Poof and select which apps they want hidden and you’ll never know it’s there.
11. Jail break programs: These are not social media apps but we need to know about them. “Jail breaking” basically means hacking your own device to lift restrictions on allowable applications and the user can then download third-party apps not sold in the App Store or Google Play store. These apps are supposedly intended to help users clear the clutter from their screens, but some young people are using them to hide questionable apps and violent games from their parents.
These are just a few of the popular apps that are out which our kids could be using. Again, these can be used for just social networking and to connect with friends/peers but have the potential for inappropriate usage. Parents need to educate themselves about social media, know the log-ins of all your child’s accounts, and talk to your teen about the consequences of social media. Remind them that everything they send or post is permanent. A lot of parents think that the answer to this is not allowing smart phones for kids. I beg to differ. Just like the answer to the dangers of driving is NOT avoiding driving, we cannot shield our kids from technology forever. If it’s not their phone, it can be a friend’s phone or their computer! We need to teach our kids the basics of internet safety, cyber bullying, the dos and don’ts of social media and instill responsible decision making. You can set up age limits on your child’s device. Advise them not to share passwords with friends. Make it a rule to get your permission before downloading apps or joining new social media sites. You can’t join every site or app and monitor your child’s every move online; teens will always find a new platform that their parents don’t know about yet. Rather than hovering or restricting your child from downloading every social media app, sit down and go over some basic rules and expectations.