When you’re talking about connecting with other people the saying, “there’s an app for that” isn’t a joke. Teens don’t want to use just one app to send a message; they’d rather use multiple apps to keep track of a crush, post a selfie or share a secret. Your teen selects a messaging app based on what they need—if they want to keep it private than they will probably pick an anonymous app; if a teenager wants their messages to disappear quickly they are likely to choose a temporary app.
Social media outlets like Facebook allow your teen to have hundreds of “friends” while these messaging apps allow your teen to share with a smaller group of people. Sometimes that can be a good thing because it helps prevent oversharing. But your teen can still get into trouble if they aren’t careful.
Anonymous Messaging Sites and Apps
The two big drawbacks of an anonymous app are that they tend to promote bullying and many times they’re filled with unsuitable content. Some teens by using these apps they can remain anonymous and possibly say whatever they may be thinking at the time—even things that wouldn’t tend to say in public.
Just like other messaging apps, Kik allows users to send texts, videos and pictures; yet there are multiple mini-apps within it where you can do everything from chat with strangers to trade virtual greeting cards. Users of Kik do not need to use their real names with if they don’t want to. But what makes Kik popular are the additional features: tell when someone’s read your message, ability to search the web from within the app, send limitless messages without decreasing their limits on texting, users get loads of content from inside Kik and send group or personal messages. While all this may sound nice, here are three things that as parents you must watch out for:
- Most of those inside apps are trying to sell the user something. Help your teen understand that these “promoted chats” are really advertisements; always have your teen check with you before buying anything from these apps.
- Kik allows users to easily reach out to strangers anonymously. Urge your teens to always block unknown people and discuss what details should not be shared online. Kik uses automatic messages as a marketing tool, yet sometimes the message might seem like it’s from a real person. Encourage your teen to ignore messages that don’t feel right to them or are from people they can’t identify.
- If your teen doesn’t know about Kik’s settings, they could wind up sending a post or message to everyone or a group of people that was really meant for an individual or select few. If you do allow your teen to use the Kik app make sure to go over the settings with them to make sure that they understand how to block users if needed.
This app is meant for anyone 17 and over. It allows users to “confess” anything on their mind, supply a background picture and share it with everyone else using Whisper. What teen could resist the urge to anonymously share their most secretive thoughts without consequences? Yet, as a parent, there’s more you need to know about this “secretive” app:
- While some of the “confessions” can be completely harmless and funny, others can be hard to read and could possibly be troubling to your teen. For example, One user posted about their parents divorce custody battle; or another user we saw stated that they were a teacher and elaborated on about a sexual fantasy that they had about one of their students. Not exactly the type of things you want your child to be reading about, is it?
- Whisper posts easily have the ability to go public. BuzzFeed and other entertainment news websites are starting to present Whisperers. That might not sound like a big issue but when secrets—fake or real—are published it usually leads to more harm than good.
- Much of the time, Whisperers like sexual talk which leads to inappropriate conversations. Utilizing Whisper’s “nearby” geo-location feature, could encourage some users to use the app to ask for sex. It’s also common to see references to alcohol and drugs as well as the use of harsh language.
Teens can ask questions on this social site; they can even anonymously answer queries that are posted by other kids. The site contains friendly Q&As like crushes or favorite foods. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But the real allure for teens tend to be the disturbing sexual posts and mean comments. There are a few other things you should be aware of too:
- To make their profile less visible, your teen can withdraw answers from the live stream and decide if they want to make their posts anonymous. If he/she is using Ask.fm, it’s a good idea that they stay away from live streaming and turn off anonymous answers.
- Ask.fm has had a big problem with bullying. Sit down with your kids and discuss cyberbullying and how this type of cruel behavior could be promoted through being anonymous—it could save a life.
- Ask.fm also can be linked with Facebook. What does that mean? That users posts—and behavior—could be seen by a much larger group of people.
Teens like connecting with people in their neighborhood and they can certainly do that with this anonymous-based app. With Yik Yak, teens are allowed to send messages and pictures to others in their surrounding community and be completely honest. If your teen mentions other students and their teachers there’s a good chance that someone just might know who they are referring to. Here are a few other tidbits you should know about Yik Yak:
- If your teen has self confidence or esteem issues (who doesn’t?), YikYak is not the place to be, generally, it tends to be full of rude and insensitive posts.
- YIkYak has been the subject of many new stories and conflicts. Why? Users have utilized Yik Yak to make fierce threats towards establishments and other people.
- The app developers must respect the law and police; so if any teen makes a threat, they’ll no longer be anonymous. Your teen could get into a lot of trouble if they write anything that could possibly be deemed to be a threat even if they meant it to be a joke!
Teens can talk about anything and everything on Omegle, thus the attraction. Front and center are lewd language-filled conversations loaded with remarks on sexual content, alcohol, violence and drugs. If that’s not bad enough, there are these items:
- This app is overflowing with people looking to start up sexual conversations. There are those that like to do this live, while others will provide porn website links. Clearly, this isn’t an app for any child under age 18.
- Every user gets matched up with a stranger. What’s even worse is that sexual predators don’t need to register on Omegle and because of this, Omegle has been involved in sexual predator cases with teens.
- Since the chats are anonymous, more often than not they’re very graphic-more so than they would be if your teen was talking to a identifiable person.
Temporary Messaging Apps
The photos and texts sent by a user through a temporary messaging app will be deleted after a certain amount of time.
People who use this app set time limits on videos and photos that they send before they are deleted.
The app developers planned for teens to use this app as a method to share light-hearted fun images without going public and most do use Snapchat for this purpose. There are a few things parents need to be aware of:
- “Safe” messaging can make it seem like it’s okay for your teen to send sexual pictures or videos to someone.
- Once a teen puts information online, it’s out there and never really “disappears”. A third-party service like Snapsaved-not affiliated with Snapchat-lets you save any or all Snapchat pictures and if users want to pay for it they can look at Snaps as often as they like. Or another Snapchatter who received the photo-can easily take a screenshot of the picture before it is deleted. So make sure that your teen is not fooled into thinking once a Snapchat is deleted it’s gone forever, it simply isn’t true.
Your teenagers can do all sorts of interesting things with Line like app-voice messaging, text, video, and Line also incorporates social media features like group chats and games. Teens love this app for all that plus the avatar-based network called Line Play, free video calls and text and more than 10,000 wild emoticons and stickers. Before your teen uses this app there are a few things you need to be aware of:
- If your teen wants to use some of the in-app features, they’ll need to pay for it-or rather, you will. For instance, to have free communication, they will need to be part of Line, that set of adorable cat emoji’s they want to use also comes with a price tag, and each game also comes at an additional cost. These fees can definitely add up pretty fast!
- There’s an element within Line called “Hidden Chat”; this is akin to the vanishing messages of Snapchat yet it has several other alternatives. A message can contain video, photos and location details. Teens can select the length of time a message lasts-two seconds to one week-before it’s deleted. Although Line claims their servers are safe, you can never be too cautious!
Solutions For Parents
So what’s the ideal way to talk to your teens about these messaging apps? We always encourage an ongoing conversation about the risks of posting online and how your teens online reputation will matter to future employers, teachers, and college-admission officers. A regular reminder to them about how nothing online should ever be considered private can go a long way.
When discussing online reputation it is always a great time to bring up specific risks like the proper use of using messaging apps on their smartphones or tablets. If the types of apps that your teenager uses becomes a problem make sure that you are using a trust-worthy parental control that will allow you to block inappropriate apps or websites like Whisper, YikYak or Ask.fm.
Also published on Medium.