Although the parents of the youngest segment of the population grew up with computers, phones, and the wonders of digital connectivity, there is no match for the comfort today's youth has with all things tech.
They are truly the world's first digital natives.
However, while they are extremely comfortable using these devices, they are often also unaware of many of the risks they face.
They may do things that put themselves or others at risk, and often they do so only because they do not fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. Yet no one is going to advocate for denying children access to technology. Screen time should be limited, sure, especially for younger children. But the internet and its related devices offer our kids so much that it would be wrong to deny them access.
Therefore, we must find a way to help our kids stay safe online and develop the needed skills to identify and avoid harmful situations.
To do this, though, it's important to know more about some of the most common dangers so that we can protect our kids and have the right conversations with them about what to do while online.
Here are fourteen of the most common apps and social media sites you need to be aware of to help keep your kids safe:
The development of apps has been a major boon to our lives. They make it easier to do everything and allow us to harness the power of the smartphone.
However, because they're so popular, there is a wide range of different apps available to download. And many of them, while innocuous to adults who understand what they are doing, can be dangerous to children.
Take some time to learn about these apps, and then find if your child is using any of them. If so, use what you know to have a thoughtful conversation about why your child uses the app and why you are concerned.
You can probably guess that this app has nothing to do with math. Instead, it's an app that allows you to hide files on your phone. It's mainly designed for photos and videos, and unless the user knows to look for them in the Calculator% app, they won't be able to find them anywhere.
Because it keeps things away from watchful eyes (read: parents), this app should give us cause for concern. The most common thing people want to hide is inappropriate material, so it's important you talk to your child.
Find out from them why they have the app and what they're trying to hide, and explain to them that photos exchanged with someone else, either via text or the internet, never really get deleted.
Hopefully, this will turn them on to the risks they face. But this is also the time to watch your child's behavior a little more closely to make sure they aren't putting themselves in unnecessary danger, possibly by communicating with a stranger.
Tellonym is a popular app amongst high school and middle school teenagers. It's an anonymous instant messenger app, which means anyone can message anyone without knowing who they are talking to.
The age limit is technically 16 for this app, but there are ways to bypass this, leading to kids as young as 12 being active on the platform.
Unfortunately, the anonymity of this app has made it a hotbed for cyberbullying and other forms of abuse. People feel that because the person they are talking to doesn't know who they are, they can say anything, no matter how hurtful. You don't want your child on either end of this.
By using this app, your children are also putting themselves much closer to harmful predators who may be able to manipulate your child into giving them sensitive information or photos, or worse, into meeting up with them in person.
It's best kids don't use this app, and hopefully, you can convince them why they shouldn't. However, at the very least, make sure your kids understand what they are doing and are how it could be dangerous.
Rated for teens 17 and up, Bigo Live is a live-streaming app. It allows users to live broadcast what they are doing using their phone's video camera. It's also a place where people live-stream video games.
The fact that it's live is interesting, and this feature alone is not what makes this app potentially dangerous. Instead, it's the type of content people post that parents should be concerned about.
It's common to hear inappropriate language and references to sex, if not live-streams of it, which we can all agree is not something we want our kids being exposed to.
In addition, the app allows viewers to interact with the account streaming and this can lead to inappropriate online relationships. And because this app works by location, others can find your kid if they are live streaming rather easily, especially if they are doing so near a recognizable landmark.
Speak to your kids about the risks of such an app, and discourage them from using it and respecting the age requirements of apps.
This is an app you really want to keep away from your kids. It's an online virtual reality game in which users create an avatar and use it to communicate with other adults.
In theory, there's an 18+ side of the game that was designed to keep more adult-themed interactions out of the reach of children, but this isn't enforced and there's a lot of inappropriate stuff going on in the general areas as well.
However, what's particularly concerning about this app is that it puts people in contact with one another randomly. Users can chat directly with one another, and if your kid is not properly prepared for this, they can easily be tricked into giving away information they shouldn't be sharing.
Try to keep your children off this app, and no matter what, make sure you reinforce with them the idea that they shouldn't talk to people they don't know, just like they would in "real life."
Tinder, Badoo, and Hot or Not
These apps are all slightly different, but they are all designed for the same thing: meeting people and hooking up. They usually have an age restriction - Tinder's is 17 - but again, this is difficult to enforce and teenagers who are far too young are active on it. Badoo is a similar app in that it connects people in the area for the purposes of hooking up.
Hot or Not has the same end goal, but it goes about it in such a way that it's even riskier for kids. In short, it works on a rating system, and users are encouraged to rate each other's profiles. This can lead to confidence issues on top of inappropriate interactions with adults who have bad intentions.
It's important to have an open and honest conversation with your children if and when you find them using these apps, and it's likely to be a much larger talk that touches issues such as dating and relationships. But before you feel comfortable your kid understands this, and while they are still under 18, you should do your best to keep them from using these apps.
Yik Yak has been dubbed the "local Twitter." To use it, you need to provide specific information about your location and then you will be put into a chatroom with other users who are connecting from that same area.
It was designed to work as a bulletin board app, specifically for college campuses, but it never really panned out that way. Instead, it works as more of a news feed and meet-up site for people who live near to one another.
There could be some useful stuff on there, but because Yik Yak allows users to also connect one-on-one it most definitely puts your kids at risk.
Again, make sure to speak with your children about the risk and do your best to keep them off Yik Yak.
We live in an age where bullying threatens our children not only at school and at other in-person events but also online. And Ask.fm is a hotbed for what is known as cyberbullying.
On this platform, people can ask and respond to questions from friends and other known users as well as others operating with anonymity. It's hard to imagine kids using this tool for anything other than harming one another, and again, you want to be sure your kid is not on either side of this exchange.
If you find them using this app, speak with them about what types of questions they are asking/answering or even reading, and discuss the importance of keeping personal issues off of public forums.
This last app is another scary one. It's designed to facilitate random interactions between people. And while the idea is in theory interesting, and the site's rules prevent people from broadcasting inappropriate content, people can get by this rather easily by using a fake account.
Chatroulette is famous for inappropriate content, and once you connect with someone, you can also voice chat and text, which can lead to some rather sketchy interactions between your kids and complete strangers.
Keeping Your Kids Safe From Apps
Depending on how old your children are, you may want to consider installing some controls on their devices. For example, you can set things up so that you need a special password to download an app.
This might seem a bit drastic, but it might be the only safe way to keep them away from some of these apps. Ideally, the conversations you have with your kids will be enough, but if you're worried it won't, going one step further might be the best way to keep them out of harm's way.
Social Media Sites
In addition to apps, social media sites also need to be on your radar. There's a good chance you know of, or maybe even use, some of the apps on this list, but we're going to discuss some of the specific risks your children face when they use them.
No need to explain what Facebook is and while it is generally safe, it won't be if you don't take the right measures to secure your child's account. Specifically, you need to make sure share settings are set so that anything they post only goes to those who are their friends.
Also, make sure to make your kid's accounts invisible to search so that it's more difficult for strangers to find them and reach out to them.
However, it's equally as important to have a talk with your kids about sharing and why they should show discretion.
If you're concerned or find your kids are over-sharing, there are ways you can protect your kid's accounts so that they cannot share anything with strangers. This might seem overbearing, but it's probably a good idea for younger kids who are just getting comfortable with operating in an interconnected digital environment.
To adjust your privacy settings, simply click on the down arrow at the top right of your Facebook home page. Then, once in your general account settings page, find "Privacy" on the menu on the left. Here's a screenshot:
Again, you're probably quite familiar with Instagram already, but know there are a few dangers you need to look out for. Perhaps the most concerning but also the least likely is your kid getting contacted by someone. Instagram has a direct messaging feature, and while you need to be connected first to reach out, this can happen and dangerous people can find your children.
Another concern is the impact Instagram can have on kid's self-image and self-esteem. Looking at photo after photo of images claiming to be depictions of beauty, success, masculinity, femininity, etc. can be inspiring, but it can also instill some conflicting ideas in your kids' minds that you need to discuss.
As a result, once again, you need to have a good conversation with your kids so that they understand how to properly use Instagram and interpret the images that they see while on there. You'll want to make sure the privacy settings on your children's accounts are set to the maximum.
The trick with Snapchat is that the photos and videos you send are only available to the one you sent them to for a maximum of 30 seconds. Then they disappear "forever."
This can be a fun way for friends to share with one another, almost in real-time, what they are up to. But it's also a way to share inappropriate pictures, and your kids can be tricked into trusting this "disappearing" feature enough to send people they don't know photos they shouldn't be sharing.
It's important to make sure your kids understand that these photos don't always disappear. People can take screenshots and download videos, and even though the app alerts you when that happens, it can't stop it from occurring.
TikTok is the latest rage in the world of social media. It allows users to make short music videos, of 3-15 seconds, or longer videos, of 3-30 seconds, that is made up of smaller videos looped together.
It was designed to make it easier for people to express themselves and communicate with one another using video, and the age limit is technically 13, but parents should have some concern with their kids using it, even if they are older than 13.
This is because TikTok does not filter content, and there's a lot of stuff on there that simply isn't appropriate for younger teenagers, no matter what the app says.
Also, videos are made public, anyone can see them and contact the person who shared it, exposing your kid to interactions with strangers that could wind up being harmful.
If your kid is using TikTok and insists on continuing to do so, then make sure the privacy settings are set to the maximum on their account and also spend some time talking about what kinds of things they post and what they like to see, making sure they aren't doing anything that could put them in danger.
Keeping Your Kids Safe of Social Media
Privacy settings and thoughtful conversations are going to be your best defense against the bad stuff your kids might encounter on social media, and in some cases, parental controls on your WiFi or your kid's device might be necessary.
Another thing you can do is join the same social network as your kid and ask to be their friend. They might resist at first, but if you can connect, this will likely encourage them to think twice about what they share or let others share on these sites where photos and other information can quickly fall into the wrong hands.
We've outlined fourteen different apps and social media sites that you need to be aware of and talk to your children about, but this list is by no means exhaustive. New apps and social sites are coming out all the time, and other actives, such as gaming, also have an online component.
As a result, it's important you stay vigilant and continuously educate yourself about the different things out there and how they can impact your kid. And it's also important to keep an open dialogue between you and your children so that they feel comfortable talking to you when something is wrong and so that you can trust them to use the internet safely and for their own benefit.