- Teens and tweens love the variety of social media apps and sites
- The more parents know, the better they can communicate about safe choices
Gone are the days of Facebook as a one-stop shop for all social-networking needs. While it may seem more complicated to post photos on Instagram, share casual moments on Snapchat, text on WhatsApp, and check your Twitter feed throughout the day, tweens and teens love the variety.
- Stranger danger is an issue. Kik allows communication with strangers who share their Kik usernames to find people to chat with. The app allegedly has been used in high-profile crimes, including the murder of a 13-year-old girl and a child-pornography case. There's also a Kik community blog where users can submit photos of themselves and screenshots of messages (sometimes displaying users' full names) to contests.
- It's loaded with ads and in-app-purchases. Kik specializes in "promoted chats" -- basically, conversations between brands and users. It also offers specially designed apps (accessible only through the main app), many of which offer products for sale.
- You can only chat with approved friends. Users can only communicate with those on their approved contact lists, which can help ease parents' safety concerns.
- It can be distracting. Because the service makes video-chatting so affordable and accessible, it also can be addicting. A conversation with your kids about multitasking may be in order.
- It's for users 16 and over. Lots of younger teens seem to be using the app, but this age minimum has been set by WhatsApp.
- It can be pushy. After you sign up, it automatically connects you to all the people in your address book who also are using WhatsApp. It also encourages you to add friends who haven't signed up yet.
Microblogging apps and sites
- Teens are on the lookout for "likes." Similar to the way they use Facebook, teens may measure the "success" of their photos -- even their self-worth -- by the number of likes or comments they receive. Posting a photo or video can be problematic if teens are posting to validate their popularity.
- Public photos are the default. Photos and videos shared on Instagram are public unless privacy settings are adjusted. Hashtags and location information can make photos even more visible to communities beyond a teen's followers if his or her account is public.
- Private messaging is now an option. Instagram Direct allows users to send "private messages" to up to 15 mutual friends. These pictures don't show up on their public feeds. Although there's nothing wrong with group chats, kids may be more likely to share inappropriate stuff with their inner circles.
- Porn is easy to find. This online hangout is hip and creative but sometimes raunchy. Pornographic images and videos and depictions of violence, self-harm, drug use, and offensive language are easily searchable.
- Privacy can be guarded but only through an awkward workaround. The first profile a member creates is public and viewable by anyone on the Internet. Members who desire full privacy have to create a second profile, which they're able to password-protect.
- Posts are often copied and shared. Reblogging on Tumblr is similar to re-tweeting: A post is reblogged from one tumblog to another. Many teens like -- and, in fact, want -- their posts reblogged. But do you really want your kids' words and photos on someone else's page?
- Public tweets are the norm for teens. Though you can choose to keep your tweets private, most teens report having public accounts. Talk to your kids about what they post and how a post can spread far and fast.
- Updates appear immediately. Even though you can remove tweets, your followers can still read what you wrote until it's gone. This can get kids in trouble if they say something in the heat of the moment.
- It's full of inappropriate videos. In three minutes of random searching, we came across a clip full of full-frontal male nudity, a woman in a fishnet shirt with her breasts exposed, and people blowing marijuana smoke into each other's mouths.
- There are significant privacy concerns. The videos you post, the accounts you follow, and the comments you make on videos all are public by default. But you can adjust your settings to protect your posts; only followers will see them, and you have to approve new followers.
- Parents can be star performers (without their knowledge). If your teens film you being goofy or silly, you may want to talk about whether they plan to share it.
Live-streaming video apps
- Kids might make poor decisions to gain popularity. Because it's live video, kids can do or say anything and can respond to requests from viewers -- in real time. Though there seems to be moderation around iffy content (kids complain about having accounts suspended "for nothing"), there's plenty of swearing and occasional sharing of personal information with anonymous viewers. In general, it mimics the real-life potential for kids to do things they normally wouldn't do in pursuit of approval but in a much more public way.
- Teens can share personal information, sometimes by accident. Teens often broadcast from their bedrooms, which often have personal information visible, and they sometimes will share a phone number or an email address with viewers, not knowing who's really watching.
- It's creepy. Teens even broadcast themselves sleeping, which illustrates the urge to share all aspects of life publicly and share even intimate moments with strangers.
- It allows kids to communicate covertly. To discourage copying and taking screenshots, a spotlight-like system that recipients direct with a finger (or the mouse) only reveals a portion of the message at a time.
- It may encourage risky sharing. The company claims that its "Multi-Device Deletion" system can delete a message from anywhere: the device it was sent from, the device it was sent to, and its own servers. But it's wise to be skeptical of this claim.
- You don't have to have the app to receive a Burn Note. Unlike other apps -- for example, Snapchat -- users can send a Burn Note to anyone, not only others who have the program.
- It can make sexting seem OK. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing sexy images.
- Whispers are often sexual in nature. Some users use the app to try to hook up with people nearby, while others post "confessions" of desire. Lots of eye-catching, nearly nude pics accompany these shared secrets.
- Content can be dark. People normally don't confess sunshine and rainbows; common Whisper topics include insecurity, depression, substance abuse, and various lies told to employers and teachers.
- Although it's anonymous to start, it may not stay that way. The app encourages users to exchange personal information in the "Meet Up" section.
- It reveals your location. By default, your exact location is shown unless you toggle location-sharing off. Each time you open the app, GPS updates your location.
- It's a mixed bag of trouble. This app has it all: cyberbullying, explicit sexual content, unintended location-sharing, and exposure to explicit information about drugs and alcohol.
- Some schools have banned access. Some teens have used the app to threaten others, causing school lockdowns and more. Its gossipy and sometimes cruel nature can be toxic to a high school environment, so administrators are cracking down.
Chatting, meeting, dating apps and sites
- It's an open network. Users can chat with whomever's online, as well as search locally, opening the door to potential trouble.
- Lots of details are required. First and last name, age, and ZIP code are requested at registration, or you can log in using a Facebook account. The app also asks permission to use location services on your teens' mobile devices, meaning they can find the closest matches wherever they go.
- Users get paired up with strangers. That's the whole premise of the app. And there's no registration required.
- This is not an app for kids and teens. Omegle is filled with people searching for sexual chat. Some prefer to do so live. Others offer links to porn sites.
- Language is a big issue. Since the chats are anonymous, they're often much more explicit than those with an identifiable user might be.
- Skout is actually OK for teens if used appropriately. If your teens are going to use a dating app, Skout is probably the safest choice, if only because it has a teens-only section that seems to be moderated reasonably well.
- here's no age verification. This makes it easy for a teen to say she's older than 18 and an adult to say she's younger.
- It's all about swipes. You swipe right to "like" a photo or left to "pass." If a person whose photo you "liked" swipes "like" on your photo, too, the app allows you to message each other. Meeting up (and possibly hooking up) is pretty much the goal.
- It's location-based. Geolocation means it's possible for teens to meet up with nearby people, which can be very dangerous.