It’s important to understand what your children are doing online and how to keep them safe. Right now, the three fastest growing trends are social networks, video streaming, and chatting apps. Let’s look at the most popular apps in each category, what children are using these platforms for, and how to keep them safe.
Social networking has been around for a while, with the birth of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook being one of the first. But today, research shows that Snapchat is the preferred photo sharing app for teens. 28% of teens claimed that it is the most important social media platform, followed by Instagram, which 27% of teens rated as the most important.
How Children Use These Platforms
Snapchat is an app that lets users post short videos and create “Stories” out of images and videos. These Stories only last 24 hours, and when users send personal Snaps to each other, these Snaps can only be viewed a maximum of two times.
Tumblr is like a blog and a social media platform combined. Users can accumulate content that they like or make their own content, adding to their Tumblr page.
Twitter is still hugely popular, but more so for businesses and adult users. Tweets are limited to 140 characters and usually include hashtags, which identify common topics.
What to Watch Out For
Every child will use these apps in different ways, but there are some common threads that parents should be aware of when their child is using social media.
- Setting up a social media profile usually involves adding a lot of personal information. Once this information is online it can never be fully erased.
- Sending pictures can quickly escalate. While selfies may seem harmless, they can turn into sending explicit pictures and may even be contributing to poor body image (especially with female users). According to Common Sense Media’s body-image study, Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, teens who are active online worry a lot about how they’re perceived.
- Explicit material, like porn and foul language, are rampant on these platforms and although filters can be implemented, it’s impossible to sort through it all. Children should feel encouraged to report any disturbing material they see to an adult.
Generally, female users share more on social networking sites than male users. They are generally more active, sharing more videos and photos.
There’s a reason why they call Millennials and younger generations cord-cutters: they are watching less traditional cable television and more streaming video. Apps like Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube are to thank for this trend.
What to Watch Out For
As with any media, there is always room for unsafe behavior. Without filters, all of these video streaming apps have the potential to show children explicit or inappropriate material. Luckily, though, they all offer filters to sort out what children can see. These video apps may seem scary, but with the right guidance they can serve as great learning tools and entertainment for kids.
Both boys and girls enjoy using these apps because there are shows and videos for everyone. Teen girls may catch up on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or Scandal, while teen boys may opt for car and sports videos on YouTube. Setting filters is key for both demographics.
One of the most recent emerging trends has been chatting apps, and anonymity on these apps. Apps like Yik Yak, Kik, and Whisper are just a few of these sneaky options.
Yik Yak originally gained traction on college campuses, but quickly gather younger users. It allows users to post short updates, like Tweets, anonymously in their location. Yik Yak has been banned from many schools and institutions because of its cyberbullying nature.
Kik is an anonymous messaging app that allows users to send text, pictures, and videos. Rather than using a user’s text messaging limits, Kik is unlimited and offers in-app purchases. There are different privacy settings and users can send messages to their friends, groups, and even all users.
Whisper is an app rated 17 and older, so some parents might feel more comfortable not letting their children use this app at all. It offers an interface that allows users to share confessions or other things that are on their mind. The confessions range and may include sexual language or drug references.
These chatting apps require strict supervision because they provide anonymity and address topics that might not be suitable for all children. Plus, there is always the risk of sending personal information to strangers on the Internet. Because they are anonymous, it is hard to tell if there are more male or female users on these apps, but based on the content a lot of the audience skews toward older males.