You know their names. The “apps” that kids love and parents are warned to fear: Snapchat, Ask.fm, Kik, and more make it to the top of the "bad" list for their reputations as harbingers of cyberbullying, porn, and predators. At a presentation on “Youth and Technology” at a local high school, a tech expert advised us all to go home and immediately delete these offending apps from our kids’ phones because “nothing good ever happens on them.”
I don’t know about you, but restricting my kids from something they are already using or doing, especially without solid evidence of nefarious behavior on their part, is a parenting strategy that hasn’t worked out particularly well for me. Since my kids enjoyed using some of these apps to socialize and keep in touch with their friends, I knew his advice was sure to backfire. It would drive them further into the dark regions of cyberspace, to a place and under an alias I would never find.
A study conducted by Kapersky Lab confirms my fears, they find that almost half of children (44%) hide potentially dangerous online activity from their parents. The older the child, the more he or she hides.
Clearly, I would have to find a different approach. So I turned to author, parent advocate and family Internet safety advocate Sue Scheff for her advice. According to Sue, “Kids are more savvy than any filtering equipment or software; they’re going to get around it.” Her recommendation is to establish trust and communication early on.
I decided to try communication.
So I asked my daughter about Ask.fm, the anonymous question and answer platform used by many young people who love it for its anonymous nature. Ask.fm has often been cited for its possible link to cyberbullying. While this is certainly troubling, what I learned by talking to my daughter is that her school’s anti-tobacco club was considering using the site to answer kids questions about smoking and about the growing and concerning use of “e-cigs.” They wanted to take advantage of the anonymous nature of the app to give kids a “safe” place to share information with their peers.
We've also talked about Snapchat, the app that initially earned somewhat of a reputation as a "sexting" app because of the fact that photos and videos self-destruct after 10 seconds. My daughter reminded me about the Christmas she and her sister showed her 80-some-year-old grandparents how to use the app and how much fun they had. She also introduced me to some of the less-publicized features of the app--like "Discover." Discover allows users to view news content compiled by publishers, brands, and Snapchat’s own editorial staff. The app offers short interesting features from CNN, MTV, Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan, The Food Network, Vice, National Geographic, People, Fox Sports, and more. This all sounds positive to me.
Of course that’s not to say that bad things don’t happen on “apps.” Bad things happen at Disneyland too. The point is, let’s not shoot the messenger because, sure as the dawn, another messenger is going to come along to take its place. So instead, let’s take Sue’s advice and start “communicating.” You know — that thing we used to do face-to-face.
And then, set some ground rules. Not for our children, but for us. These three simple rules will keep kids safer than any filtering software or device:
1. Know thy "enemy." A good rule of thumb is to get to know the “apps” your kids are using. The first thing you’ll learn when signing up is that nearly all restrict membership to those who are at least 13 years of age. In addition, most also ban obscene, vulgar, and abusive chatter.
2. "Friend" or "follow" your child. Presumably you know where your child goes to school and who their closest friends are, right? There is absolutely no reason not to know this same information when kids go online. In fact, these “apps” and social media in general can be a parent’s best friend by revealing a wealth of information about whom they are interacting with and what they are talking about, so take advantage!
3. Know their passwords. Make it a rule of thumb to know your child’s passwords. Sure, there may be some pushback on this, but if you pay the mobile phone bill, technically, that phone is yours and knowing how to access their account is a smart safety measure. It’s also a chance for you both learn how to make and manage safe and strong passwords.
It’s App-solutely (excuse the dorky pun) vital to know what your kids are up to, and who knows? You might just have a little fun too.
Be sure to download our guide: 10 Apps Youth Love Most.