As a parent, it can be easy to get lost in the technological stream of new social media options. But with kids using social media at an ever-expanding rate, it's important to keep tabs on what these apps can do and how to make sure your kids stay safe when they're using them.
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You probably already know about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But what about Tinder? Or Whisper? These apps are skyrocketing in popularity, especially with teens. The good news is that they aren't all bad, but they do allow for a significant amount of sharing and might require careful monitoring. Get to know these apps and whether or not your kids are using them.
SnapChat: This app promises users that their pics and messages will disappear after 30 seconds — which could prompt teens to take more risks with their posts than they would on other sites. The problem is that while the message might disappear from the site, a quick screen grab will save it forever to be passed around among other friends or on other sites.
Tinder: This popular dating app lets users see and "like" any other user within a 1-mile radius. If the other user also sends out a "like," the pair can chat and exchange information. You can see why this app might be popular at say, a high school football game, where teens from different towns can "browse" the area in search of new friends. But the potential for disaster is huge when kids exchange info with folks they've just met online.
Ask.fm: This site allows users to anonymously ask and answer questions. It can be a useful and fun resource, but it's worth keeping on eye on because the anonymity can lead to bullying and dangerous topics of discussion.
Slingshot: The messages and photos received on this site are completely random, and that's what kids love about it. In order for a user to see what someone has sent them, they have to send something back first. And users can be searched by anyone else on the site.
Chatroulette: This website matches up users with other random users for a video chat. And there are no filters here, meaning anyone can get matched up with your kid. Here's a statistic that will put this in perspective: According to this poll — 1 in 8 spins on this site resulted in a meet-up with someone who was naked or engaged in a sexual act. (So no, this isn't like the other options on the list, but it's good to know about the good and the bad, right?)
Kik Messaging: This is a fun messaging app with lots of great features like the ability to create memes and add videos and images to chats. But it's also a popular site for spammers of all types.
WhatApp. Similar to Kik, WhatsApp allows users to connect with other users across various platforms. But also like Kik, the potential for stranger-stalking is high.
Don't freak out if you find that your kids are using one of these apps — except for Chatroulette because that one is never a good idea. But if your kids are online and using social media, you need to have an honest and open discussion about the potential dangers of the Internet and how they can keep themselves out of trouble.
Beyond the usual safety precautions of not giving out personal info to strangers, kids need to be reminded that what happens online, stays online — forever. There is no such thing as a disappearing message or a permanently deleted picture. Once something is texted or posted, kids (and adults) should assume that it can be passed around and posted for years to come. Bottom line: if they wouldn't want you to see it or read it, they shouldn't post it.
Once you've had this talk with your kids, you might want to consider one of these monitoring apps. It's not snooping if your kids know about it, and it may protect them from what other kids post to and about them. Here are some options:
Avira: Want a behind-the-scenes look at your child's social media accounts? The Avira app can give you that, complete with a listing of all new friends and a color-coded view of significant events. You'll get a special alert if your child gets a friend request from someone not in their age group or with someone with whom they have no friends in common. Avira also scans any pics of your child — regardless of who posted them — and flags any that may be potentially damaging.
My Mobile Watchdog. This is another all-in-one monitoring app that lets you see social media posts as well as call and text logs and phone location. My Mobile Watchdog also allows you to block certain apps altogether and set up time blocks (like say, after 9 p.m.) when your child can no longer access social media or send texts.
TeenSafe: This app goes beyond social media and lets you look at your child's text messages (even the deleted ones), call logs, browsing history and phone location. TeenSafe is a little snoopier than some of the other apps out there but totally worth it if you need to keep closer tabs on what your kids are doing online.
Halt: With this app, you can not only look at the status updates and pictures your child posts, you can also flag them, or — if it's on Twitter — delete them. Halt might be good for younger kids who aren't quite social media savvy yet and may post inappropriate things without realizing the potential problems.