Social media sites and apps account for a large amount of the time kids spends online. It is crucial to know which of these sites and apps your children are using so you can understand what they are and their purpose. Many social media platforms are harmless, but there is a growing number of sites and apps as well. New sites and apps are popping up all the time, so be sure to know which your children frequent.
Tips for Using Social Media (Parents)
- Learn about popular social media apps for children and teens. Find out which ones your children are using, but remember that these apps gain and lose popularity quickly.
- Ask them to check their “friends” lists to see who has access to their accounts. Encourage them to remove anyone they don’t know or trust. Children should also block or “unfriend” anyone bothering them.
- Teach them to use privacy settings. While they don’t guarantee complete privacy, they can help children control who sees what they share.
- Help children remove any personal or inappropriate images from social media and other accounts.
- Encourage them to report inappropriate posts to the website or app. Most have a system in place to handle these complaints.
- Tell children to report criminal behavior to the police. If anyone sends them an inappropriate sexual request, they should report it to the CyberTipline®.
What's the Right Age for Social Media?
Many parents don't know if their children are old enough to be using social media. Some sites can be a dangerous place for younger children, potentially exposing them to bullying, inappropriate content or grooming. But they can also provide important support networks for younger people. 13 tends to be the important age for most social media sites and apps. Why 13? Along with issues with kid’s undeveloped brains and responsibility, there are legal ramifications when kids falsify their age to create a social media account. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), from the Federal Trade Commission, is designed to protect the personal information of children under 13 online. Companies are required to notify and receive permission from parents to collect personal information from kids. The act also bars companies from collecting images or video that could identify the child. The protections outlined in COPPA are not extended to children under the age of 13 but claiming they are 13 to open an account. When a child signs -up for an account with a falsified birth date, they are outside the reach of protection offered by the act and their personal information is at risk.
Is waiting until your child is 13 the best practice? Maybe not, but with many sites and apps, it is the rule. Thinking your child(ren) will not be exposed to social media until they are 13 may be wishful thinking. How can you prepare your child(ren) to make sure they are ready when the time comes? There are plenty of age-appropriate and COPPA-compliant platforms for children under the age of 13, such as Lego Life and Kudos, or you can create your own private social network with options such as Gecko Life. Getting together with other parents to create a controlled network with only friends and family is another method of introduction to social media you may want to consider. A comprehensive list of kid-safe options is posted by Common Sense Media.
A Few Apps Kids May Be Using
GroupMe is an app that doesn't charge fees or have limits for direct and group messages. Users also can send photos, videos, and calendar links.
- It's for older teens. The embedded GIFs and emojis have some adult themes, such as drinking and sex.
- Teens are always connected. Without fees or limits, teens can share and text to their heart's content, which may mean they rarely put the phone down.
Kik Messenger is an app that lets kids text for free. It's fast and has no message limits, character limits, or fees if you only use the basic features. Because it's an app, the texts won't show up on your kid's phone's messaging service, and you're not charged for them (beyond standard data rates).
- 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.
WhatsApp lets users send text messages, audio messages, videos, and photos to one or many people with no message limits or fees.
- 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.
PHOTO AND VIDEO-SHARING APPS AND SITES
Instagram lets users snap, edit, and share photos and 15-second videos, either publicly or within a private network of followers. It unites the most popular features of social media sites: sharing, seeing, and commenting on photos. It also lets you apply fun filters and effects to your photos, making them look high-quality and artistic.
- 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.
- Kids can send private messages. Instagram Direct is like texting with photos or videos and you can do it with 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.
Musical.ly – Your Video Social Network is a performance- and video-sharing social network that mostly features teens lip-synching to famous songs but also includes some original songwriting and singing. Musers, as devoted users are called, can build up a following among friends or share posts publicly.
- Songs and videos contain lots of iffy content. Because the platform features popular music and a mix of teen and adult users, swearing and sexual content are commonplace.
- Gaining followers and fans feels important. Teens want a public profile to get exposure and approval, and many are highly motivated to get more followers and likes for their videos.
MICROBLOGGING APPS AND SITES
Tumblr is like a cross between a blog and Twitter: It's a streaming scrapbook of text, photos, and/or video and audio clips. Users create and follow short blogs, or "tumblogs," that can be seen by anyone online (if they're made public). Many teens have tumblogs for personal use: sharing photos, videos, musings, and things they find funny with their friends.
- 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 to be reblogged.
Twitter is a microblogging tool that allows users to post brief, 140-character messages -- called "tweets" -- and follow other users' activities. It's not only for adults; teens like using it to share tidbits and keep up with news and celebrities.
- 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.
LIVE-STREAMING VIDEO APPS
Houseparty - Group Video Chat is a way for groups of teens to connect via live video. Two to eight people can be in a chat together at the same time. If someone who's not a direct friend joins a chat, teens get an alert in case they want to leave the chat. You can also "lock" a chat so no one else can join.
- Users can take screenshots during a chat. Teens like to think that what happens in a chat stays in a chat, but that's not necessarily the case. It's easy for someone to take a screenshot while in a chat and share it with whomever they want.
- There's no moderator. Part of the fun of live video is that anything can happen, but that can also be a problem. Unlike static posts that developers may review, live video chats are spontaneous, so it's impossible to predict what kids will see, especially if they're in chats with people they don't know well.
Live.ly – Live Video Streaming poses all the same risks that all live-streaming services do, so poor choices, oversharing, and chatting with strangers can be part of the package.
- It's associated with Musical.ly. Because of the parent app's popularity, this streamer is all the rage, and "musers" (devoted Musical.ly listeners) have built-in accounts.
- Privacy, safety, and creepiness are concerns. Because teens are often broadcasting from their bedrooms to people they don't know, sometimes sharing phone numbers, and often performing for approval, there's the potential for trouble.
Live.me – Live Video Streaming allows kids to watch others and broadcast themselves live, earn currency from fans, and interact live with users without any control over who views their streams.
- Kids can easily see inappropriate content. During our review, we saw broadcasters cursing and using racial slurs, scantily clad broadcasters, young teens answering sexually charged questions, and more.
- Predatory comments are a concern. Because anyone can communicate with broadcasters, there is the potential for viewers to request sexual pictures or performances or to contact them through other social means and send private images or messages.
Snapchat is a messaging app that lets users put a time limit on the pictures and videos they send before they disappear. Most teens use the app to share goofy or embarrassing photos without the risk of them going public. However, there are lots of opportunities to use it in other ways.
- It can make sexting seem OK. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing sexy images.
- There's a lot of iffy, clicky content. Snapchat's Discover feature offers a grab-bag of articles, videos, and quizzes from magazine publishers, TV networks, and online sources mostly about pop culture, celebrities, and relationships (a typical headline: "THIS is What Sex Does To Your Brain").
Calculator% allows users to hide photographs and video from people who might use their phone. It looks innocuous, but it’s really a way to keep parents from finding content their children shouldn’t have.
- It looks like a calculator app – the icon looks like a calculator and will say “Calculator%.” When you open it you’ll see a calculator.
- Password Unlocks it. Users can enter a passcode into the calculator to get to hidden images and videos. Passcodes begin and end with a period.
- There are several apps that are similar. If you see a calculator app on your child’s phone, delve into it to be certain that it truly is a calculator app.
Whisper is a social "confessional" app that allows users to post whatever's on their minds, paired with an image. With all the emotions running through teens, anonymous outlets give them the freedom to share their feelings without fear of judgment.
- 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.