No one will argue that teens and tweens are obsessed with technology and social media. It can be exhausting trying to keep up with the latest changes in technology and the newest, coolest apps, but hopefully this resource will help.
Snapchat is by far the most popular app among middle and high school students right now, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. What started out as a fun and somewhat innocent social media app has quickly evolved into an all-in-one network that includes:
- Picture and video sharing
- Snap stories
- Group chats
- Integrated apps like Monkey, YOLO, etc.
- “Vanishing” content (with the magical ability to reappear at a later date)
- Location sharing
What do they love it? What are they using it for?
Teens are using this app to share pictures and videos with their real friends, virtual “friends”, and to be honest, complete strangers. While it appears that users can only send and receive content from users they “accept”, the reality is that most teens are accepting just about anyone and calling them “friends”. In the typical teenager’s mind, social status and the number of “friends” they appear to have is a lot more important than safety.
There is no real way to filter the good users from the bad on an app like Snapchat, so when accepting these strangers as friends, teens are susceptible to whatever content these strangers may introduce them to. Many users are internet predators, and will send suggestive photos, videos or messages to teens. Some will solicit sexual photos or videos and because teens are under the impression that the content will disappear within a few seconds, they comply with these requests. In reality, this is considered child pornography, and is a felony. Not only that, but anything posted via the internet remains on the internet permanently. Even though a teen might choose to only show the picture for 5-10 seconds, the recipient has multiple ways to save and redistribute the image.
Snap stories have become a way for teens to document their every move, posting a series of short, consecutive videos of their daily goings-on. The problem is, many of these selfie-style videos start with “hey guys, so I’m at ______”, which gives away the users location. Depending on how consistent the teens routine is, they often make it easy to predict where they will be at any given moment of the day… setting themselves up for potential stalking or face-to-face interaction with predators.
Then there are streaks. Streaks are the most addicting part of the app. The views are exciting, the “best friends” lists are exiting, the follows are exciting, but the streaks are like a drug. Streaks are virtual awards given to users who both send each other a snap within as 24-hour period, 3 or more days in a row. What does the award look like? A fire emoji 🔥, with the number of days the streak has been going. Doesn’t sound that exciting, but it is enough motivation to keep teens sending any type of photo or video to any other users, just to keep their streaks going.
What can you do?
Snapchat is a tough one to monitor. Since the content is allegedly temporary and vanishes so quickly, there is no way for a parent to “preview” the material before a teen opens a snap, message, or story. Parents could open their own Snapchat account, and follow their teen, but the teen still has full control over who sees what, and can create a paint a deceiving picture of their online life for the parents to see.
Requiring full access to your teens account (you’d need their name and password) would work a little better, but it would require you to beat your teen to the content — and what are the chances of that happening?
The safest and most reliable way to monitor your teens Snapchat activity is by purchasing and installing parental control/monitoring software. mSpy and other applications allow you to set restrictions and alerts about the activity on your teens phone. You can also block apps and disable messages during certain time periods. Other potential parental control apps include Net Nanny, Norton Family Premier, Kaspersky Safe Kids, Boomerang Parental Control, and uknowKids.
Want more info?
Lipsi, YOLO, Whisper, Sarahah, Ask.fm, Kik… just to name a few
Anonymous apps are popping up all over the place, and teenagers are very enthusiastic about them. Apps like Lipsi and YOLO allow users to send messages to anyone who has posted their personal link – but do so anonymously. In my opinion, there are very few times in life when it is necessary to conceal your identity like this, and as far as I’m concerned, posting something anonymously on social media is a complete oxymoron.
Why do they love them? What are they using them for?
Teens – girls, especially – love to use these apps to boost their self-esteem. They post questions like, “do you think I’m pretty?”, and “would you date me?”. Lots of times, they receive exactly the flattery they are hoping for: “omg you are GORGEOUS!” and “yes, hmu! (hit me up)”. Unfortunately, they often receive not so pleasant responses as well. The reasons for replying with negativity vary: jealousy, low self-esteem, trying to be funny, trying to be mean, boredom, looking for a reaction, the adrenaline rush of being ‘secretive’, but nonetheless, almost everyone using these apps has experienced unexpected negativity of this sort.
For many kids at this age, it is hard for them to consider and understand the effects that getting a response of “no” could have on them. They post their questions with visions of flattery in their head, but that is not the reality. On the flip side, students responding to these messages in a negative way may not truly understand the effects that their words have on others. They may also feel proud for being honest, something they have been told to be throughout their lives. Unfortunately, their honesty is in the wrong place, and the wrong time, and often for the wrong purpose.
It’s no surprise that teens are pushing the limits on these apps that promise anonymity – after all, if their names are not attached to the messages they are sending, they can’t get caught for saying things they shouldn’t be, right? Maybe, but I doubt it.
When teenagers are under the impression that they can say whatever they want, free of consequence, bullying is likely to occur. With these anonymous apps, the drama surrounding a bullying situation can spiral out of control at rapid speed. It can be impossible to escape, and often spills over into other social media apps and the real world. Kids have been known to gang up on others and send mass amounts of harassing messages from multiple accounts. On top of it, conversation history can be easily erased and the sources of the messages can be hard to track, making it difficult to confront the bully(ies).
What can you do?
- Talk to your teens and tweens about the importance of honesty, trust and kindness. Instill in them the understanding that you should never need to hide behind a mask to say what you want to say – and if so, maybe it shouldn’t be said.
- Discuss being prepared for both positive and negative responses when asking for feedback, and how to handle criticism.
- Find out if your child knows who or where to go for help if they find themselves in a negative online situation, such as bullying. Help them identify one or more adults they would feel comfortable talking to.
- Consider using one of the additional parental control apps listed above.