Cyber safety and your children
Statistics reveal that smartphone use among American teens has increased substantially and mobile access to the Internet is pervasive. One in four teens are “cell-mostly” Internet users, who say they typically go online using their phone, making it more difficult for parents to provide close supervision. These are among the new findings from a nationally representative survey of 802 teens ages 12-17 which shows that 78% of teens now have a cell phone and almost half (47%) of those own smartphones while 23% have a tablet computer and 93% of teens have a computer or have access to one at home.
Even with parental restrictions enabled on computers and electronic devices, there are plenty of seemingly innocent apps and games that could potentially pose a danger to our youth when used improperly. Some of today’s popular games include chat room availability where kids can communicate with complete strangers. New apps are constantly being created and many, often used by peers to communicate with one another, are the ones proven to make children most vulnerable to dangerous situations and digital content.
Dangers Lurking on Devices
If this has you wondering what potentially precarious apps are lurking on your child’s device, you may want to learn more about the following ones that may raise a red flag according to crosswalk.com:
Whisper. This 17+ rated app's motto is: "Share secrets. Express yourself. Meet new people." It allows users to post secrets anonymously and chat with other users in a specific geographic area. Children may feel that their secrets are safer with strangers and this can lead to ill-intentioned strangers looking to connect with young people. Anonymity can be easily lost because it connects users with those in close proximity.
Snapchat. Users can capture an image or video and make it available to a recipient for a specific amount of time, usually up to 10 seconds. After the time limit is up, the picture or video automatically disappears. Similar apps include Poke, Wire and Wickr. Kids can be tempted to send or receive inappropriate media with a sense of no consequence because the image will supposedly self-destruct automatically. These apps may embolden kids to send more explicit photos and texts than they would through traditional texting. Snapchat also recently added a new app called Snapcash that enables users to wire money. There is concern that this will tempt youth to trade inappropriate photos for cash.
YikYak. Users of this app are anonymous because they aren’t required to create a profile or account. Comments can be accessible to people within a five-mile radius. A psychiatrist called this “the most dangerous app he’d ever seen because it can turn a school into a virtual chat room where everyone can post his or her comments anonymously.” This app is causing problems in schools across the United States, with students maliciously slandering teachers, staff and other students. In fact, several schools have now banned smart phones from campus because of this particular app.
Kik. This is a free app that is an alternative to a texting service. It allows texts and pictures to be sent without being logged in the phone history. Similar apps include Viber, WhatsApp and TextNow. This app makes it easier for your child to talk to strangers without your knowledge since it bypasses the wireless providers’ short message services (SMS). The app is rated ages 17+ but there is no age verification so anyone can download it.
Vine. This popular app allows users to watch and post six-second videos. While many of the videos are harmless, inappropriate or pornographic videos do pop up into the feed, exposing children to sexually explicit material. You can also easily search for and access porn videos on this app.
ChatRoulette and Omegle. These apps allow you to video chat with strangers.
Tinder. Users post pictures and view images of other users. When they think someone is attractive, they can “flag” the image and if that person “flags” them in return, the users can connect with one another. This app and similar apps such as Down, Skout, Pure and Blendr are primarily used for “hooking up.”
Poof. This app hides other apps on an electronic device. Users select the apps they would like to hide and their icons will no longer show up on their device’s screen.
Chat with your Child
We live in an age where it is crucial that parents stay educated and informed and realize that a child’s safety is more important than their privacy. Dialogue on how much information should be shared and with whom and how this will be monitored by parents is vital. While the world of online technology can offer unlimited helpful and positive resources, it can also be a menacing place for today’s youth. The potential risk for our cyber-saturated youth presents a platform for productive and ongoing discussion where families must decide on their own limitations, level of transparency and boundaries.
Cyber Safety Tips
• Openly communicate your expectations on time management, the use of technology, “netiquette” and apps.
• Establish family media rules, such as requiring children to check with a parent before downloading a new app or game.
• Encourage your children to communicate with you if they encounter something inappropriate online.
• Designate a common charging area so you can easily check devices.
• Set parental restrictions on your child’s phone or other device so that all downloadable content is age-appropriate.
• Once you've established guidelines, you may want to put them in writing. An example is the Family Online Safety Contract, which you can download from the Family Online Safety Institute at www.InternetSafety101.org.
by Shari Horton, published in aitkenage.com