We are several weeks into the school year and you may be thinking the dust has settled. Unfortunately, new apps are appearing on our students’ phones causing issues at school and at home.
In my book, Parenting in a Digital World, I lay out the two basic problems with social media. First, children can meet people outside their parent’s knowledge; and secondly, social media removes the normal inhibitions face-to-face interactions normally entail. This new crop of apps neatly fall into the two categories of problems just discussed. The same problems we experienced with last year’s apps are just getting repackaged into a new shiny container for our children to experience over again.
These new “friending” apps enable kids to easily connect and chat with people they don’t know. What makes these apps different than others we have seen in the past, they piggyback on other very popular social media apps that students already have. These new apps are leveraging the user base of apps like Instagram and Snapchat. This is insidiously brilliant. A child who has Instagram may look at one of these “friending” apps as an add-on and not a problem. These friending apps also use your child’s GPS location. So, the strangers they are meeting are all nearby, increasing the chance of face-to-face meetings. The possibilities are frightening to say the least.
MyLOL is an app advertised for “teen dating.” Although the app is intended for users over the age of 17, there is no age verification. Posts on this app are often half-naked pictures of teens. Users engage in flirty or even sexually explicit conversations. Chat topics often include references to sex, drug use, alcohol, or violence. There are some very real privacy concerns since some users post their real names, IM handles, email addresses, and phone numbers.
Spotafriend identifies itself as a Tinder alternative. Like Tinder, this location-based app lets you rate other members (and lets other members rate you) by swiping left or right. It’s marketed as a teen “friend” app for users age 13 to 19, but comes with a Mature 17+ rating in the app stores.
Yellow, an app I have rated before, is called “Tinder for teens,” Yellow works with your Snapchat or Instagram account. Like Tinder, users swipe left or right on photos to find a match. Users don’t have the option to make their profile private, and your profile can be viewed by anyone near your GPS location.
Group Video Chatting
Group video chatting is a way for several friends to chat online together. Do you remember party lines when you were a kid? Using their webcams or mobile phones, kids communicate with several friends at once via live video. Because it is a live stream, and the app does not record the stream to be viewed later, many kids feel like it is an opportunity to engage in risky behavior. As we know, nothing done online is private. Children in these situations might find themselves making decisions they know are wrong, and later regret their actions.
Airtime lets users watch videos and listen to music from across the web together, making it very popular with teens. They can also live stream themselves. Airtime users can also create private “rooms,” giving children the ability to have one-on-one video chats with strangers.
Houseparty is proving to be one of the more popular webchat apps perhaps because of its ability to have up to eight people in a room and have several “parties” going at once. The app makes it easy for kids to connect with people they don’t know and have private conversations.
Monkey connects to a user’s Snapchat account and then facilitates a 10-second video chat with another Snapchat user (stranger) around the world. Clearly, this is a dangerous situation that exposes children to some very scary people. Users of Monkey have reported of random individuals exposing themselves or even masturbating to the camera.
Kiwi lets people ask questions of friends or complete strangers. By default, posts are tagged with your location, unless you turn your GPS off. This could create a situation where all the students at one school could anonymously interact with each other. See any potential problems here? This same combination of anonymity and proximity led to major problems with similar apps such as YikYak.
Sarahah, an Arabic word that translates to “honesty,” lets users send anonymous comments to friends.
TBH, which stands for “to be honest,” is making a strong showing at schools. TBH lets kids answer mostly wholesome questions about friends. The questions are approved by the app developer. It is too early to say if this app will turn out better than the other apps mentioned in this article. TBH has a planned, not yet released, chat function that could present a problem.
Live streaming, like video chat apps, gives kids the feeling they are free to engage in risky behavior. Kids looking for a private place to do their live broadcast away from Mom and Dad are often streaming from their bedrooms. These situations lend to oversharing and real risk of giving away intimate information. These types of apps make children vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
BIGO LIVE lets users make video blogs or live stream their activities with hope of becoming the next YouTube sensation. There are no parental controls or filters. Content can include bad language, violence, and even nudity.
Live.ly is the live streaming version of the insanely popular lip-syncing app Musical.ly. Musical.ly is very popular with very young children, most of which are under the user agreement’s minimum age of 13. Live.ly and Musical.ly are widely regarded by online predators and pedophiles as a target rich environment.
Live.me is known for being very edgy. Seeing provocative language or teens in various stages of undress are not uncommon on this app.
YouNow is not exactly new but it remains a very popular app for teens. It is similar to YouTube in that users comment and like someone’s video, but they can also can buy them “gold bars” or other gifts, which generates money for the broadcaster.
What Should Parents Do?
Be sure to turn on parental controls on your child’s devices and lock the app store with a password that only you know. Review each app before you download it on to your child’s device.
My book, Parenting in a Digital World, will walk you step-by-step through each of your child’s devices and show you how to make them safe as well as how to talk to them about safe online behavior.