A Parent’s Guide to Smartphone Apps

So, you got your kid a smartphone. Seemed like a good idea at the time. They’re useful, increase social standing, AND OPEN YOUR KID’S LIFE UP TO ALL KINDS OF DANGERS. I don’t mean to alarm parents who unwittingly gave their freshman, eighth grader, fifth grader, little lamb a cell phone. Technology on its own is a very useful tool, but anyone who has been paying attention knows that it can be used in ways that can either be constructive or harmful. Before you get that phone in your kid’s paws, there are a few smartphone apps you might want to know before all, ahem, heck breaks loose in your kid’s social life. Parenting in the digital age is a very real challenge that our parents never dealt with, so getting educated about what’s out there is not only wise, its necessary. 

Smartphone Apps

Ask.fm  

Ask.fm is an anonymous site. I probably don’t need to say more, but just in case this is your first child and you still believe in all things good, here goes. There are hurtful people out there, both young and old, that use this unmonitored site to say anything they want to your baby. They bully, tease, and tear away at every aspect of your child’s life leaving your child silently questioning every person encountered and wondering who authored the latest nasty post.

With no privacy settings, blocking an abuser is the only control a user has. However, abusers have been known to get around the block by creating or using different profiles. And, don’t get me started on the “boy” who thinks your daughter is “cute.” Remember, anonymous site. That “boy” could be a “man” setting up a time to meet. I know that sounds extreme, but an online playground like this can get really dangerous for our kids really fast. 

Snapchat

I like Snapchat, but I am an adult using it to communicate with adult daughters about things like “is this dress cute?” Kids use it to exchange fun videos and there are great filters that make them look like woodland creates or have rainbows pouring out of their mouths. They tell you it only lasts 30 seconds and then is lost forever in the ethernet. This is NOT. TRUE. If there is no other lesson we can teach our kids when it comes to living in the digital age it is this: 

The Internet is FOREVER.

True, unless someone screenshots the snap or Snapchat exercises its rights to reproduce any pictures or video, that cute snap appears to go away. But, AZ Screen Recorder can be used to download and save Snapchat videos to a phone and I think we have all seen or heard stories of videos or images from Snapchat suddenly “going viral” for all the wrong reasons. Finally, users are criminally liable for their videos. Every parent talks to their kid about internet safety, not sexting, knowing who they are talking to, but every week there is another story about teens who exchange shots in their undies and end up in legal trouble. BIG legal trouble. 

Whisper

If I tell you a secret, do you promise not to share…

Another anonymous site, Whisper allows kids to confess anything and pair it with an image or photo. Whisper has been compared to the book and project “Post Secret.”  However, there is a separate secret message component that allows readers to contact the poster. When my daughter was in middle school, a group of girls used this app to create a community of self-harmers sharing how they were feeling when they cut themselves or how often they hurt themselves along with pictures.

As a general rule of thumb, any and all anonymous sites need to be avoided like the plague.

KIK

KIK is another instant messaging app that has no parental controls or ways to authenticate users.  It has developed a reputation for allowing teens to sext and the term “kik buddy” has replaced “sext buddy” in some circles. This is another app that has been gift-wrapped for sexual predators. Law enforcement officials warn of predators who will pressure young users to post nude or pornographic images and then threaten to post the images online or even harm the child’s family if they don’t continue to send more. And worse still, there are in-person meetings being arranged on KIK. The stark reality is that we live in an area of the country that has a real issue with this. According to Exploit No More, 79% of human trafficking cases in Wisconsin occur in Milwaukee. As parents, this isn’t something we can afford to ignore or brush off.

Well, it’s too late to take the phone back. What now?

I know, panic is starting to set in. What did I do exposing my kid to these dangers? We haven’t even discussed Vine, 9Gag, Tinder, or other apps that act as “dummy apps” to hide content or interactions from parental eyes There are even more that I am too old or unhip to even know about. But before we all spiral down the rabbit hole and lock up all the iPhones and lock our kids in their rooms until they turn 21, let’s debrief a bit.

kids and cell phones

Fortunately, there are things you can do. And, yes, some of them involve extending your parental reach into your child’s privacy. And before The Internet Judges slam down the gavel on me, let me ask one question ::  When our kids are young, do we let our kids go off on a play date with a friend we have never met and whose parents we don’t know from a hole in the ground? Certainly not. 

Think of these options as comparable to screening play dates. Some of those online “play dates” could be with child predators and from where I’m sitting, our kids’ lives are worth it. Establish open conversations based on respect, honesty and an understanding that your parental right to know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing extends to the digital realm.

  1. Teach your kid the responsibilities and dangers of having a cell phone
  2. Review phone contents without objection or notice
  3. Stress that phones are a privilege 
  4. Keep up on kids’ apps through sites like Common Sense Media
  5. Use parental monitoring software on your kids’ phones.  

There’s no shame in monitoring your kids’ phones. After all, you pay for them. And even if they have a job and are footing the bill (yay!!), the same applies because at the end of the day, your baby’s safety and mental well-being is our utmost call as parents. And what could be more important than that?

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