A couple years ago, Snapchat just came out and was one of the new, popular tools for sending messages that could include video or photos that disappeared. Billed as a feature, this service offered its users the ability to send things without worry about accountability. For instance, the service might be used to send very private photos, but the unlike regular texting, it would prove difficult for the recipient to save the photo. As it turns out, the service is still popular, but it’s being joined by other services that either emulate its main feature or else has capitalized on new ways to communicate under a cloak of anonymity.
Tools we think parents should be aware of include:
- YikYak (anonymous location-based messaging service),
- Snapchat (encourages distribution of images and videos),
- Periscope (live video streaming via Twitter),
- Meercat (live video streaming via Twitter),
- Kik (peer messaging system).
There are also alternative apps that mimic Snapchat. What’s difficult is to track what are the new tools and which are the popular ones. As new tools are developed that allow for communication in different ways, it becomes of paramount importance not to necessarily ban the apps from kids—or ban a specific way of communication—but instead to talk in more general terms about what you, as a parent, find acceptable.
As an example, let’s assume you do not want your child using dating apps on their smart phone or tablet. Many of these services are intended for young or older adults, but lying about your age isn’t an impossibility to gain access to these types of apps. This article from April, 2015 looks at some of the more popular dating apps that allow for communication with others. While parents can go online to learn about what’s popular, the conversation and expectation might be more far-reaching: “there will be consequences if you use your phone to use apps aimed for adult users that encourage dating. I am not comfortable at this time you using these services.”
What we find interesting of late is the generational divide and diversity among social apps. Adults (18 years+) prefer to use more mainstream apps, such as:
- Instagram, and
- Vine, and
The same report cites that 73% of teens have access to a smart phone, and 87% have access to a laptop or desktop computer.
Some tips for staying on top of the latest apps allowing us to communicate in new ways:
- Set up your app account so that you are granting permission to the account and can control the password;
- Regularly check the device to see which apps your child is using and in what capacity;
- Read the age ratings of apps provided by the app stores;
- Have regular conversations with your child about your expectations for communicating online and what the consequences are;
- Understand that there is an incredible amount of peer pressure for students to communicate socially with online tools, including texting (also called SMS messaging). Just because the tool can allow something inappropriate, does not mean your child will use the app or service for something inappropriate. That said, all the apps in general allow for private conversations, and unlike a phone call, these conversations written in text can re-surface causing embarrassment;
- As a general rule, you should not communicate with text, picture, or video anything that might later embarrass you, another person, or you wouldn’t mind your own mother (or father) seeing.