While standing at the bus stop recently, my friend complained about her daughter’s constant cell phone use. She wasn’t complaining about how often her daughter was on her phone, though. My friend was upset that her daughter had heard about an app called Wishbone, where kids could rate each other anonymously. Fortunately, her daughter was honest with my friend and they were able to discuss the dangers. However, as we moms discussed the apps teens use today, I was stunned by how much I don’t know about the apps teens are using today.
And I figured that, if I didn’t know, thousands of other parents are in the dark, too. It can be exhausting to keep up with who your teen texts and the information he or she shares on social media but if your kid is using these apps, you should be very concerned. Because while these apps may look benign on the surface, many are causing cyberbullying and predatory behavior to run rampant.
Snapchat has been in the news lately thanks to Snapchat Discovery and the recent launch of “after dark” content by some well known, mainstream media outlets. This content contains sexually explicit content, geared towards adults looking to explore their sexual interests. The problem with Snapchat’s new content is that there are currently no parental controls in place and the content is available during the early evening hours on weekends. Unlike Facebook and Instagram that have sexual content policies and restrictions on explicit photos, Snapchat does not limit content. So, if your teen uses Snapchat, now would be a good time to familiarize yourself with the Discovery channels your teen follows. You might be surprised by what you find.
Wishbone is an app designed to allow users to compare topics like fashion, celebrities, music and regular people. Teens are able to anonymously answer questions in the form of a poll. And, while it might be fun to ask, “Should I wear these shoes or these?” the truth is, kids are using this app to compare each other and rate each other on a scale. All anonymously.
At first glance, this app looks like a normal calculator. But, it’s really a secret way for kids to hide photos and other information they don’t want their parents to see. Even the way you log in to the app makes it appear as if you are calculating a sum: you enter “.” then a numerical password and “.” again to gain access. Take a close look at your teen’s phone to make sure they are really just trying to figure out how much gas money they borrowed from you last week.
Ask.fm is another question and answer based app where users ask questions and their friends can answer anonymously. Sure, it seems like it would be a blast to ask, “What football team are you rooting for in the Super Bowl?” but, unfortunately, kids are asking hurtful and mean questions about their peers. This app has been linked to the most severe forms of cyberbullying, in fact, according to Business Insider, Ask.fm has been linked to 9 teenage suicides. If your teen has this app on their phone, talk to them immediately about the dangers that come with complete anonymity.
Music.ly has long since been an app that has caused parents to be concerned. Users are able to make videos set to music and tweens and teens flocked to the app a few years ago. And, at first, Music.ly seemed benign enough. I mean, who doesn’t want to record themselves dancing to Justin Timberlake, right? But, of course, because we can’t have nice things on the internet, Music.ly became a breeding ground for pornographic content as well as self harm videos. And, as one mom discovered, porn isn’t the worst thing on Music.ly, these days: kids as young as 8 are using sexually explicit hashtags and other sexually objectifying language to gain viewers for their videos. It’s time parents face the music on this one: Music.ly is downright dangerous for teens.
This one is self explanatory: Text Burner allows the user to text anonymously via a private phone number. The app is free and your teen could be texting just about anyone right under your nose. And, since the phone number is set up through the app, you would have no way to track the texts via a cell plan.
If you are like me, you’ve spent the last few years coaching your teen on appropriate social media uses and best practices. You’ve hopefully taught them about online safety and what’s appropriate to post in our 24/7 social media world. And, I’m guilty of blindly assuming that teens are only using Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, much like their parents. But, the reality is that teens are even more tech savvy that we are and knowledge is power for parents when it comes to keeping up with the newest apps.
When you hear of a new app, download it to your phone. Nose around the application to see how it works and familiarize yourself with the functions. Talk to your teen and ask questions about the apps you see on their phones. Thankfully, my teens have been honest with me thus far but that doesn’t mean I will let my guard down when it comes to keeping an eye on their app use. And, let’s be honest: sending your kids selfies of yourself with stupid Snapchat filters can be fun, right?
Christine Burke is the owner of the popular parenting blog, keeperofthefruitloops.com. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job. Her work has been featured on the Today Show, the Today Parenting Team, Scary Mommy and other parenting websites. In her current role as Assistant Editor of Grown and Flown, she writes about the realities of soon sending her not so little anymore kids off to college and prays she doesn’t use too many comma splices in the process. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.