The Dangers of Messaging Apps

dangers messaging app

In a recent MamaBear Blog post, we identified some of the top messaging apps. Most parents are aware of the prominence of social messaging apps and the way they have captivated tweens. While messaging apps can be harmless in most cases, it is important for parents to not only stay in the know about which apps are being used but also to monitor them as closely as possible to ensure their children’s safety.

The Dangers of Messaging Apps

While kids may simply be using messaging apps like Kik and SnapChat to share trivial messages and a range of goofy emoticons with their school friends, there are some hidden dangers associated with messaging app use that would strike fear into the heart of any parent.

According to this Fox 4 article, in one week the app Kik was linked to three serious crimes involving teen victims in Southwest Florida. The apps are being used by predators to prey on young victims as well as by kids engaging in sexting and cyberbullying.

See Also: Taking Responsibility for Kids and Sexting

Designed for Young Adults, Usurped by Tweens

Parents should take note. Most kids who have smartphones use these apps on a daily basis and throughout the day and night. Originally designed for much older youths, messaging and social media apps have been usurped by young kids who lack the maturity to understand how much damage they can do.

See this article for an interesting perspective on what happens when apps designed for more mature college students fall into the hands of tweens:

See Also: Yik Yak App Makers Do the Right Thing

More alarming is the way different social apps are being used together by young kids in dangerous ways. For example, one blogger describes how the photo sharing social network Instagram and the messaging app Kik were used together to allow a pedophile to target a young teenager.

Safety Measures

What can parents do?

First, talk to your kids. Without taking too prying of a tone, ask them questions about the apps they use most. Try to make the questions positive, rather than negative, in order to get a foot in the door with kids reluctant to share. What are their favorite messaging apps? Who do they like to talk to? Have they made any new friends? Asking questions but keeping the dialog light and conversational can build trust and help kids to be more open to sharing with their parents.

Second, install a family safety app like MamaBear on all family members’ phones so that you can monitor your kids’ behavior on social media like Instagram and Twitter. This way you will know who they are making friends with and be able to keep tabs on any troublesome behaviors.

Third, remind your children to take their own safety seriously. They should be aware of the kinds of things that really do happen with messaging apps and the types of predators who lurk behind deceiving screen names and profile images. It is important for the whole family – parents and children alike – to stay in the know about what these apps should be used for and what can make them go terribly, terribly wrong.

 

Taking Responsibility for Kids and Sexting

kids and sexting

As much as we don’t want to admit it, more and more kids are sexting. According to studies conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, The Pew Internet & American Life Project and the Cox Communications Teen Online & Wireless Safety Survey, 39 percent of all teens have sent sexually suggestive messages via text, email or instant messaging and 48 percent of teens say they have received such messages.

Naturally, kids don’t want their parents to find out about sexting behavior. So they try to stay one step ahead when it comes to keeping select content hidden from their parents. Part of this is developmentally normal. But sometimes it can lead to trouble – especially when social media apps are involved creating harm to your child’s digital reputation.

Even when parents use family safety apps like MamaBear to monitor their kids’ safety, talking about the consequences to sexting is an ongoing, important conversation. Be aware of new social and messaging apps your kids and their peers are using. Also, do your best to responsibly monitor their text messages.

POOF! GOES PARENTAL AWARENESS

Take, for example, the popular app Poof. “Another app to keep an eye on is Poof,” writes one blogger. “It’s an app that hides other apps. All your child has to do is open Poof and select which app they want hidden and mom and dad will never know it’s there.”

This video shows how the app works on Apple devices (note the types of sexually themed apps the commentator decides to hide with Poof!).

Poof also makes a texting app that allows text messages to disappear after they’ve been read. “POOF text messages are never stored on servers, and leave no text messaging footprint behind!” reads the app’s description at the Google Play store.

Taking Responsibility

Do your kids’ phones have Poof?  How would you know? So whose responsibility is it to monitor kids when they engage in this behavior? These days, many groups who work with youth are taking action to keep tabs on kids social media behavior, from schools instituting new social media policies to the police, who are known to have their own procedures now for monitoring the social media accounts of local teens. Some might argue that it is the responsibility of the social media companies themselves to keep tabs on what is going on with underage accounts. Others believe it is firmly the responsibility of parents to monitor their kids’ behavior and hold them accountable when they go astray.

See Also: Schools offer social media training to deter sexting, other dangerous online behavior

Top Five Messaging Apps Used by Teens that Parents Should Know About

TOP MESSAGING APPS

These days, it seems that SMS is quickly becoming “so 2013.” Once a mainstay of mobile communication for people of all ages – especially among tweens and teens — SMS or Short Message Service (AKA texting) is becoming secondary to social messaging apps that can be used to text extensively for free, rather than by fee.

According to one article, this year it is projected there will be 21 billion text messages sent as compared to almost 50 billion app-based messages.

Kids in particular are loving messaging apps, and an increasing number of software developers are catering to the upsurge in popularity of apps designed to allow people to message without texting fees.

Below are the top 5 messaging apps most popular with youth around the world that parents should be aware of and understand.

See Also: MamaBear Cell Phone Contract for Kids

  1. WhatsApp – WhatsApp Messenger, often referred to as the leader of the messaging apps, is used by millions of people worldwide. The Android app allows users to send and receive messages, pictures, audio notes and video messages. Group chat is also available. The first year is free, with a 99 cent annual charge every year after that. WhatsApp works with a user’s phone number, just like SMS, and integrates with an existing phone address book. You can also use the app to share location, exchange contacts, broadcast messages to contacts and more.  Facebook agreed to acquire WhatsApp for $16 billion.
  2. Kik – Kik is another smartphone messenger app. Unlike WhatsApp, Kik requires users to create and log in with a username, as opposed to using a phone number as an identity. According to Kik, this allows users to be “in complete control of who you talk to.” Kik touts itself as being “like a real conversation, where you know when your messages are delivered and read, and when the other person is typing back. This makes your conversations come to life.”
  3. LINE –Like other messaging apps, there are no limits to the number of messages that can be sent using the LINE app available for multiple operating systems. LINE also allows users to make free voice calls and  messages anywhere, anytime. The app also allows users to make video calls.  With LINE, users can send messages with icons, photos and location information. The app also includes a timeline feature.
  4. SnapChat – SnapChat is another popular messaging app for Android that allows users to share messages that include photos or videos (with a caption option), group chat and more. The app was designed to make messages brief and fleeting: users view it, laugh, and then the snap disappears from the screen – unless they take a screenshot! Another unique feature of this app is Snapchat Story, “a living narrative where each Snap lives for 24 hours until it disappears, making room for the new.”
  5. Viber- Viber allows people around the world to text, call and send photo and video messages with an Android, iOS, Windows devices and more for free. Viber Out can be used to make calls to non-Viber mobile and landline numbers at low rates. Like WhatsApp, on Viber, your phone number is your ID and the app syncs with a phone’s contact list. In addition to basic messaging services, Viber allows groups with up to 100 participants.

As tech trends shift with the winds, it’s crucial for parents to keep tabs on which apps their kids are using. Ask your kids if they are using messaging apps, and if so, which ones they like best. Be aware of how they are using these apps and as always, monitor. Keep an open line of dialog so you can make sure your kids are using messaging apps (and any apps on their mobile devices) safely.

photo credit: Summer Skyes 11 via photopin cc

Is Vine Safe for Kids?

When Twitter released the Vine app, it was greeted with a lot of controversy pertaining to its safety and usability among kids. Just like any social media tool, parents became aware that this app could lead to online security problems such as identity theft and cyberbullying. But, what can a parent do? | MamaBear App

The following post is a guest blog from Allie Cooper, a tech enthusiast who’s very passionate with her volunteer work; educating kids about responsible mobile device usage both locally and internationally. She also loves to cook and to travel. Despite her busy schedule, she updates herself with the recent parental control technologies.

When Twitter released the Vine app, it was greeted with a lot of controversy pertaining to its safety and usability among kids. Just like any social media tool, parents became aware that this app could lead to online security problems such as identity theft and cyberbullying. But, what can a parent do?

Similar to Instagram, the video-hosting tool exposes kids to a number of multimedia content. While it can be used for educational purposes and certainly some laughs and entertainment, some users tend to abuse the tool to spread malicious content.

Related: Is the Introduction of Video from the Instagram App Dangerous for Children?

Here are  tips  to ensure children’s Vine usage is safe and secure.

Parental Controls

Preventing kids to land on spiteful content, parental monitoring software is ideal to limit only the appropriate app and websites that the child can view. There’s no need to keep it a secret. Rather explain to them the benefits and reasons for employing it, to retain a certain trust.

Smartphones

Before providing a device, ensure that it has a mounted security feature. The good thing is that mobile service providers are spearheading this move. In 2011, O2 has installed an 18+ filter on mobile web browsing, preventing minors to land on adult and malicious content.

Knowing a Kid’s Network

With the absence of concrete privacy settings, users can easily browse all available profiles of their network. It’s advisable to be well-versed with how the app works as well as  the type of people the child interacts (friends, followers, and the people they follow). As a parent, it’s also best to make sure that the people and content you post are accepted online. Always show a good example.

Social Media Monitoring App

From a modern parent perspective, many are now utilizing social media monitoring tools to keep an eye on their young ones. Ideally, these allow you to receive an email alerts or push notification, which details how the child behaves online. Moreover, some tools are able to predict and give reports when a restricted word has been uttered online, and even when a questionable person mentions your kid. One of the most favorable tools is the Mamabear app. For example, Mamabear’s Instagram notifications allow parents to be updated when the child has been tagged in a photo or video, including recent followers and newly-followed profiles.

Watch Out for Signs

Due to peer pressure, kids easily share videos that may incur a negative effect on a kid’s emotional and psychological upbringing. Parenting expert Michele Borba suggests to watch out for signs to prevent the future attacks of cyber predators.

Social withdrawal

Social withdrawal happens when kids have deactivated all of their social networking accounts. According to Social Wellness, this type of social isolation may lead to a severe case of depression.

Fear of Social Networks

The fear of social media normally happens when a kid encounters a cyber predator. This fear leads to occasional anxiety attacks, especially when social media alerts pop up on their mobile device.

Is Vine Safe for Kids?

Vine, despite its flaws, can be a safe haven for kids. All it takes is a smart and educated parent, especially instilling good values to their children. Aside from relying on your wisdom and experiences, use technology to  remedy the blunders of social media.

Will you allow your kid to join this video-hosting tool?

 

Image courtesy of: Aulia. M.