Messaging apps get a bad rap, and any parent looking to stay somewhat ahead, or at least abreast, of what their teens are up as they tap-tap away, has some serious work to do.
Is Snapchat good or bad? Depends on whom you ask. For people like Rachel Simmons, co-founder of Girls Leadership and author of “Odd Girl Out” and “The Curse of the Good Girl,” the disappearing app is a far better option than, say, Instagram. Why? Unlike other platforms like Facebook, there’s no “liking” on Snapchat. Hence teens will be less likely to use it as a barometer of popularity. Nor are there myriad photo editing filters, so it won’t be used as a tool to create the illusion of perfection.
For others, Instagram is a better option for social-media beginners. With its focus on feel-good imagery, some think it’s less likely to be a source of malicious gossip. So what about Facebook, Vine, Tumblr and any number of other options? There’s no end to debating which is better or worse.
There is, however, a class of messaging apps that experts agree should be avoided. There’s no debate here. These are apps that offer both anonymous messaging combined with geolocation features. The problem? The issue is that they allow users to contact strangers who are in their geographical area. At the top of the list is Kik, a messaging app known by few parents and yet seemingly tailor-made for tweens and young teens. With unlimited texting, the free app comes with no shortage of enticing emojis and games. It also offers strangers direct access to users, as there’s no approving friends and people can set up accounts with just a user name, no cell phone number or other trace-able information. Put it all together and you’ve got the ultimate tool where strangers can send direct messages to other users, the results of which have been tragic.
All of which makes it bad enough. But there is some other bad news out there. Namely, Kik is proving to be hugely popular, and becoming more so by the day — estimates suggest that as many as 40% of U.S. teenagers have downloaded the app.