As a parent all you want to do is make sure the kids are safe online. It sounds easy enough but without stepping all over the children’s privacy it’s certainly not simple. Communication is central and ladles of diplomacy are often required too. Today’s teens are the true digital generation and they’re well versed in all the important apps used by their peer groups. But are they aware of the dangers and are you? To bring you up to speed, below is a run-down of the most popular apps/sites used by today’s teens.
Today children are glued to their smartphones like limpets are attached to rocks. Social media apps are one of the most compelling things they use, enabling them to share photos, engage in group chats and generally keep in touch with their peers – an important part of the growing up process when identities are being forged.
Social media helps children and young people carve out their own space in the adult world, free of adult intrusion. Is it any wonder that children have taken to social media with such enthusiasm?
However, as a parent there will always be the inevitable anxieties about what the children are doing online, whether they are being exposed to unsavoury things and whether they are doing enough to protect them. If that is the case, here are a few tips to keep the children safe on the most popular social media apps.
Instagram has got to be one of the most popular social media networks among teenagers. Despite having a minimum age sign up of 13, children of a younger age certainly open accounts, post images and gather followers. It’s a bit like the digital equivalent of the playground with kids grouping together according to tastes, trends, interests and so on.
When signing up to Instagram a default profile visibility is set to public. This means that any picture or video uploaded to the app can be seen by anyone. Depending on pictures posted it’s not such a good thing, especially if cyber stalkers are cruising the site. Without wishing to instill fear it’s always good to be mindful of the dangers however remote they are. To keep the children safe on Instagram:
- Make sure profile visibility is ‘private’ so only followers can view photos.
- Ensure the children know how to block users and also report inappropriate images.
Snapchat is a photo/video-sharing social media platform. It involves taking a ‘snap’ and sending it to friends. The receiver of the image/video can view it for a set amount of time, usually only a few seconds or so, before it disappears. The main danger is that sometimes the ‘snap’ does not always disappear. The thing to be mindful of is that inappropriate use of the app can lead to harassment and bullying.
- Ensure Snapchat is configured to only accept messages from users on the ‘My Friends’ list so your child doesn’t receive inappropriate images from a stranger.
- Don’t expect snaps to fully disappear. The ‘snapshot’ feature allows the receiver to save the photo to their phone. When this happens a warning message is sent to the sender but the snap is saved onto someone’s phone.
- Drill it in that some snaps may later cause regret so create awareness of what is being snapped.
Ask.fm is a popular question-and-answer website and app, popular among young teenagers because it allows anonymity and they can post a wide range of questions without fear of censure. The site has had lot of bad press following the suicides of some teenagers who used the site and received a spate of nasty and malicious comments. When these types of posts are persistent it can be extremely disturbing for young people. While questions are posted anonymously so are the answers and for some this cloak of anonymity is used to bully, harass and just be horrible to people they don’t know.
- Communicate with your children about the site, make sure they are safe and are not being bullied or receiving nasty comments.
- If they are being harassed just get them off the site.
Tinder is essentially a dating and hook-up site. It has an age limit of 13 but given the nature of the site, the appropriateness of this is seriously questionable. But children being children, some of them inevitably download it. The app locates ‘singles’ near your location. An image is shown and if you find them attractive, you can ‘heart’ them. If they respond in kind you can message them. The app is unhealthy for kids for a number of reasons: it promotes emphasis on physical appearance which to some degree is normal but it can become obsessional. And perhaps even more alarming, and certainly a serious issue, it opens them up to the dangers of meeting potentially dangerous strangers online who then try and arrange a real life meeting.
- If you have teens, you need to flag up the importance of ‘stranger danger.’
- Make sure they are aware that people are not the same online as they are in person. We’ve seen a plumber claiming to be an astrophysicist.
- Don’t let them use it until they are older, perhaps 17 or 18.
4chan is an anonymous image message board. And it is notorious. It contains posts that are risqué, vulgar, downright dim and sometimes alarmingly dangerous. However, it’s quite popular among some adolescents and many of the posts certainly have an adolescent quality to them. It’s also been the springboard for releasing hacked nude photos of celebrities. Perhaps the greatest danger is that a lot of the posts and threads are just abusive in terms of language, content and idea sharing. It’s easy to see an impressionable mind being negatively influenced by them.
- Put simply, 4chan is not for children and yours shouldn’t be using it. Imagine adolescents being allowed to run wild without any boundaries or restrictions or any informed insight and education from the adult word.
- It’s important to communicate with your teens about the dangers of these sites
A word of warning
The apps/sites listed above are some of the most popular social media platforms used by children/teens but there are others. It’s worth finding out which ones your kids are using and then do your own ‘sound checks’ by visiting the sites/apps to get a feel for them. Of course, you don’t want your kids to think you are snooping on them as nothing is more certain to drive them away. But the reality is that predators congregate on the deep web in chat forums and other sites.
Some of the information they share is dark and disturbing and many of them then surface onto social media platforms to attempt to lure children into private chat rooms. This has been happening for years, which is why BullGuard places such emphasis on social media protection. Of course, not every child is going to be exposed to this type of predatory activity, thankfully it is in the minority, but children are vulnerable simply by definition.
Perhaps of greater concern, because it is widespread, is bullying and harassment. This is certainly more widespread and can be vindictive, malicious and just plain awful. There’s nothing more hurtful for a child to be bullied in this way, especially when it is also in front of their peers. Get Safe Online has some great advice on how to deal with this and BullGuard has also released a Parents’ Guide on keeping children safe online. A digital version can be viewed here.
Stay safe, stay secure.