Kids’ Misuse of Certain Apps Puts Them at Unnecessary Risk
The tech world offers smartphone users access to more than one million apps designed for communication, education, entertainment, and more. Many Americans use apps to navigate their daily lives; Shaquille O’Neal even claims to spend $1,000 per week on apps.
But some kids’ use of apps is costing them much more than that.
Most of us have heard of Snapchat and were warned about the dangers of teens sharing pics (of anything and everything) that were “supposed to magically self-destruct”…mainly because most rational adults knew those pics wouldn’t actually “magically self-destruct.” After some teens turned the app into a means of sexting and cyberbullying, the only thing self-destructing were the kids using it.
But Snapchat isn’t the only app getting kids in trouble these days. Here’s a quick rundown of a few more that you’ll want to know about so you can help your teens manage them safely (or avoid them altogether).
Imagine kids having access to a place where they could ask (and answer) questions in a completely anonymous environment (via text or video). Nothing was off the table: favorite movie…or favorite sex position, last book you read…or last girl you hooked up with, and so on. Now imagine some of those kids realizing that hurtful exchanges such as insults or risqué pictures could be shared anonymously.
Sadly, that’s pretty much what ask.fm has turned into.
The ask.fm app recently captured the attention of the nation when its involvement was discovered in the bullying/suicide case of Rebecca Sedwick, a 14-year-old girl who lived in the county adjacent to mine in Central Florida. The mystique and potential danger associated with this app has even prompted lists that warn parents about the trouble their kids can stumble into while using it. ask.fm is a perfect example of using something for a purpose other than its intended one.
But it’s not the only one.
If a kid doesn’t like his/her messaging plan from Sprint, Verizon, or T-Mobile, they can simply download Kik, an alternative messaging app that also allows users to browse the web. It’s used by more than 100 million people, many of them being kids, of course, but like ask.fm, Kik has been hijacked by those looking for trouble. This article gives a good explanation of Kik…and provides several examples of the trouble kids can quickly find using the app.
Kik isn’t a “new” app by any means; it was released in 2010, but even as far back as the summer of 2012, some were warning parents to “kick kids off Kik.” Additionally, as recently as Christmas of 2013, some parents and police were worried that pedophiles and other predators were using the app to troll for unsuspecting teens (attempting to lure nude photos from underage users).
Speaking of unsuspecting, this app can be used to hide certain text messages from the inspecting eyes of cautious parents. Some parents check their kids’ text messages on a routine basis, which is a good thing, but would most parents think to look for multiple messaging apps?
Lots of teens are betting no.
This app is kinda like the eHarmony of smartphones.
Once downloaded, Tinder allows users to scroll through the accounts of others in search of a date (or just a few good looking friends). The app throws faces onto your iPhone (along with a corresponding name and age) and if you like what you see, just pass/swipe to the right. If you don’t, simply pass/swipe to the left. It gets more interesting, of course, when someone you’ve selected also chooses you. Users then get to contact one another, if desired. Here’s a helpful demo of the app from the LA Times.
Besides the obvious worries that come with unconfirmed identities and ages is the problem of making snap judgments about others based on a few pics. I don’t know about you, but when I make decisions about love interests or future friends, I need a little bit more info than just a sexy pic.
But that’s just me.
Yik Yak has been garnering a lot of press recently when students used it to spread violence at several schools across the U.S. The app is yet another example of young people’s desire to be anonymous. Yik Yak allows users to post or comment using an alias, completely anonymous, although police have already proved that wrong, tracing the source of a message and arresting the juvenile. Sadly, this is yet another app commonly used for bullying. No surprise. This is what happens when you take away accountability.
Personally, we don’t think parents should let kids have any apps where they lack accountability. Articles like this one provide some steps parents can take (at the bottom of the article) to monitor their kids use of apps like these.
The app and web site feature the tag line, “Talk to strangers!” Another example of kids craving relationships so bad that they are willing to go to the wrong places to find them.
After reading about this social media site time and time again we gave it a try—the web version. The site offers you an adult option, which brings you to a porn chatroom, a “unmoderated” section, which 9 times out of 10 connected us to a video chat with a masturbating teenage guy, or a normal chatroom where you chat with a stranger. Which one will your kid choose?
This is a good web site and/or application to block.
Let’s say a kid wanted to download and use one of those apps mentioned above, but his/her parents wouldn’t allow it. All that kid would need to do is download the forbidden app…and another app to hide it.
Poof gives users the ability to hide icons and apps on their mobile devices. Originally, it was released to give users the upper hand in hiding unwanted apps that come pre-loaded on their handheld devices, but along the way, tech-savvy youngsters figured out that Poof allows them to hide just about anything they want from parents. (Here’s a quick video review of the app to show you how it works.)
If you see this app on your kids’ mobile device, you might consider exploring it and asking some basic questions.
Bridging the App Gap
Mobile technology is continuing to change our world, and consequently, our families. A lot of it is good and helpful, but as we’ve seen, even the best intentions can get hijacked by kids who are looking for trouble. As parents, we should bear in mind that most developers don’t sit around trying to invent ways to ruin our families. Today’s teenagers can misuse an app just like they can a gun or prescription meds.
But we don’t have to be ignorant of apps (not to mention, social media in general) and their impact on our kids. We can be proactive in dealing with our kids who use apps every single day.
- Create a family environment where the need for secrecy isn’t strong. Privacy is not secrecy, but teens will use the latter to get the former. In case it’s escaped you, much of teens’ use of these secretive apps is little more than a new search for privacy as parents and grandparents steadily invade online ground once held by teenagers…namely Facebook and Twitter. Creating an open family environment should incorporate tech use, but it’s certainly not limited to it. For example, don’t be afraid to set boundaries on mobile use (When?, Where?, How much?, With whom?, etc.), but also be up front about the consequences when those standards aren’t kept (Here’s a great book that helps you set realistic guardrails). Also, be honest and straightforward about how you’re going to police the smartphone that you pay for each month. If a kid knows that text messages, downloads, and pics will be inspected every month when the bill comes due, it may prevent some of the risky behaviors discussed above. Now, contrast that kind of open agreement to a kid finding out that his mom is secretly checking his text messages. That could be an expensive setback in the relationship’s trust factor.
- Connect with them on a regular basis, at least daily. Yep, I said daily. Here’s another piece of inescapable and obvious reality: kids use apps on their phones to connect with others. In fact, Nielsen reports that “83% of Millenials sleep with their smartphone” and, for them, technology = social connection. Think about that! They are able to be social creatures because of the tool they carry in their pocket. But if you don’t like how often they stare at the 4th screen, or how dependent they are upon it, then engage them face-to-face. There are tons of ways to do this, including, talking to them about their favorite new app, or the latest viral video! Just make sure you do it on a very regular basis. Seize every opportunity you can – car rides, meals, etc. – to connect with them in meaningful ways. (Jonathan’s brand new book, GET YOUR TEENAGER TALKING, will help you do this very thing.)
Apps were invented to make life better, not worse. Familiarize yourself with these apps, and the ones already on your kids’ smartphone, and those that will be released in the coming months, so you can ensure their lives are rewarded…not wrecked.
Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of numerous books including the new Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning book Do They Run When They See You Coming? Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org. David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.