As a parent, it is so easy to get overwhelmed in the ever changing world of social media apps. However, with our kids and teens using social media at an ever increasing rate, it is important to know what apps they are using so that you can make sure you are keeping them safe whenever they go on their mobile devices.
I am sure that you already know the regulars like Twitter, Instagram and you probably even have a Facebook account. But what are your kids and teens viewing on Tumblr or YikYak? Do you even know if your kids have these apps on their iPhone or Samsung Galaxy? These are two apps that we block on all of our kids devices. My goal is to continually share important information about these apps as well as new ones with you to keep you better informed, so that YOU can decide what apps and social networks you want your family to use.
You probably already recognize the name from several local and national news stories over the past year. YikYak describes itself as the anonymous social wall for anything and everything. All of its users are anonymous as they require no personal information other than your location to register to use this app. All the posts are called Yaks and they show up on a live feed that is visible to other yakkers around 500 people who are closest to the user, determined by GPS tracking. YikYak differs from others apps in that it is intended for sharing primarily with those in proximity to the user, potentially making it more intimate and relevant for people reading the posts. All users have the ability to contribute to the stream by writing, responding, and “voting up” or “voting down” (liking or disliking) other yakkers yaks. If your child or teen uses this app they will certainly be exposed to both sexually explicit content and certainly lots of vulgar language.
One of the biggest criticisms of YikYak is the potential it has to easily contribute to cyber-bullying. In October of 2014, The Huffington Post published an editorial by Ryan Chapin Mach, titled “Why Your College Campus Should Ban YikYak,” which asserted that YikYaks anonymous messaging boards “are like bathroom stalls without toilets. They’re useless, they’re sources of unhelpful or harmful conversations, and they’re a complete eyesore. In response to the potential of cyber-bullying in younger users the developers use geo-fencing to avoid as much cyber-bullying as possible. Geo-fencing allows certain areas, such as middle schools and high schools to be fenced off using GPS technology. The app will then be no longer accessible in the fenced off area. If a user is trying to use the app in this area they will get a message that reads, it looks like you are trying to use YikYak on a middle school or high school grounds. YikYak is intended for people college-aged and above. The app is disabled in this area.
Even with these precautions taken at school you should stay diligent as they can quickly access the app away from school zones on their mobile devices. Even though the posts are anonymous most teens that we have spoken to told us that often it is not too difficult to figure out who a “yakker” is insulting or making fun of based on the “yakkers” descriptions. Several teens in our focus group even discussed that they have made friends on YikYak as to contact these friends outside of YikYak and have even made plans to meet-up locally or on anther messaging app.
Tumblr is both a website and an app. We block both on our kids mobile devices. However, it is up for you to decide what is best for your family. Tumblr says it lets you effortlessly share anything and that it does! Tumblr is one of the worlds most popular blogging platforms. Tumblr says that it has more than 195 million blogs and that 41% of these blogs are from the US and that 61% of teens ages 13-19 consider Tumblr their favorite social network (DigitalMarketingRamblings)!
Users to Tumblr can post on their boards, follow others, or even search by keyword. The app store does say that you must be at least 17 to download the app due to frequent/intense sexual content or nudity. However, despite the age requirement for the app, tweens and teens declared in a Family Online Safety Institute survey in 2013 that tweens and teens love using Tumblr on their mobile phones. Tumblrs website has an age requirement as well of 13. Most users on Tumblr post various items from text, phones, pictures, music, videos as well as links to outside websites.
Most users are using a nickname, so it is pretty easy to remain anonymous and kids tend to search for items of interest by keyword. Primary Tumblr accounts are all public, making it easy for other users to easily comment on posts or to send direct messages. Comments and messages tend to very from friendly and supportive to plain nasty and snarky. The anonymity on Tumblr makes it a very popular venue for the rping (role-playing) crowd. A dangerous trend that we have discussed in our previous blog. The “rping” blogs are filled with sexual content, pornographic cartoons and images as well as written descriptions of violence and drug use. Yes, they even have a Little Pony rping community. Several of the teens that we have discussed its use with have told us that they have built entire communities of friends on Tumblr with who they communicate with by direct or group message on a regular basis. Tumblr does have a setting that allows the users to uncheck an area on the settings page that they state as a way to avoid communicating with strangers. “eye-roll”
Common Sense Media says that pornographic images and video depictions of violence and drug use, and offensive language are easy to find. They also describe Tumblr as good fun for the under 30 crowd, but parents should think twice about letting minors join.
You need to know that Tumblr is considered one of the coolest places to hang out online especially if you are a teen that considers yourself an artist or blooming writer/blogger. As you probably already know, your child or teen may be very upset if you do choose to block this site. However, you should be aware that pornography and violence is not hard to find!
What Can Parents Do?
So, what can parents do to minimize the risks of these apps? The first line of defense involves communication. Talking to your kids and teens about the dangers involved with using apps like YikYak or Tumblr and encouraging healthy, safe choices is essential for minimizing risks. If you choose to allow your teen to use either of these apps they should always be treated like other social networks in which a parent requires the teen to share the password and maximize privacy controls
If you choose to limit or block these apps from your children and your teens, using a parental control software such as Netsanity on all of their mobile devices, will help to protect them from potential mistakes and dangers. They have a free trial so you can see for yourself.
You can also utilize the Ask to Buy option in Apple’s Family Share controls and only allow your teen to download apps with your permission.
Although parents cannot protect teens from every risk, being aware of the potential dangers of various social media apps and websites is the first step for safety!
Netsanity was made by parents for parents. With easy to use software designed to give control and sanity back to parents, Netsanity enables a safer and healthier mobile experience for kids. See for yourself with a free trial!
Netsanity is available for both Apple and Android devices.