Any parent who is raising a teenager knows what it’s like to worry about their social networking habits, their security, and privacy--- or the lack of it. Just like reading a good book, your teen can be transported to a different place with a click of button, and these new possibilities are created by connections facilitated by social media platforms. Because social media has opened doors for people who want to connect, share, and create their very own online presence, it has spanned an entire generation of teenagers looking for place where they can create their own reality on their own terms. There are multiple benefits to this, and there are risks, too.
While Facebook is still the go-to place for many social purposes, newer social apps that make it convenient to capture and share fresh and fleeting moments are becoming increasingly popular among teens. Most of these apps are developed not only to create social connections but to inspire users to exercise their individual creativity, talents, and to spread awareness about critical global issues. However, where secrecy and anonymity comes easy, you can expect your teen to flock towards apps that offer them just that. Apps that allow people to send messages and images that self-destruct within a short limited time could be very convenient for teens who want to manage their digital trails. The same goes for apps that allow teens to go incognito. To give you an idea, here are some (potentially exploitative) apps your teen could be using (after Facebook and Twitter):
Apps that have self-destructing content
Snapchat – this messaging app allows users to manage the time limit on the images and videos they send. After the image is viewed, it will disappear.
Burn note – the text equivalent of Snapchat, this messaging app erases the message after a set period of time. Its unique display system reveals one word at a time. Users can’t send pictures and videos.
Slingshot – dubbed as the “Snapchat” clone, this ephemeral messaging app lets users take a quick photo or video and after viewing, the message self-destructs. The twist is that you can only view the shot until the receiver sends a shot back.
Yik Yak – users can post Twitter-like comments anonymously and reach an audience within a 10 mile radius of their physical location. This app was designed for college campuses with an age restriction of 17+ and allows you to know what nearby people (friends or strangers) are up to.
Fess – this app allows teens to read and post anonymous confessions in their high school. The app promises “No teachers. No Parents. Just Students.”
Whisper – a social “confessional” app that allows users to divulge secrets anonymously paired with an image plus text. This app also has a minimum age requirement of 17+.
Other Texting/Chatting/Video apps
Line – an all-in-one text, video, and messaging app that also integrates social media elements such as games and group chats. The app has a feature called “Hidden Chat” which allows disappearing messages. Users can choose how long they’d like their message to last until it vanishes: from two seconds up to one week.
Tango – another multifaceted social networking app that allows users to text, make video calls, share pictures and videos, play games, and send music to their friends.
Down – formerly known as “Bang With Friends”, this hookup app’s name implies everything that could go wrong when teens use it. The notorious app allows users to check likely romantic prospects.
MeetMe – this open network app allows users to chat with others online and has a feature called Match that allows users to “secretly admire” each other.
Skout – called a “flirting” app, this app allows users to sign up as teens or adults, then they’re placed in appropriate peer groups where they can chat, send pictures, and comment. They can get notifications on other users’ geoloation. The catch: there’s no age verification.
Tinder – a popular social dating app for users who are supposedly looking for a long term relationship. It’s trending because of its swipe feature: swipe left to dismiss someone, swipe right if you’re interested. It also allows for geolocation.
These apps have grown rapidly in popularity among teens as alternative places to connect without the prying eyes of adults. Teens want and do seek privacy for that reason. While this may be a normal, healthy, and age-appropriate attitude, it’s still imperative to have a sincere talk with your teen about their social media habits or behavior, and the lasting effects it can have on themselves or someone else. Teens need your proper and timely guidance. This may seem daunting since many of these apps were not around when your were a teen, so you do not have past experience to rely on.
But, you can do a lot to make sure they use any technology --- apps, websites, games—in ways that are safe, responsible, and savvy too.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
Establish an open line with your teen – instead of imposing your rules, allow for an open communication line with your teen. This will encourage him to be open about his social life both in real life and online. It would be better if you can be physically present to be able to develop a more personal level of trust. If you can’t be always present, make sure you routinely check on him and listen to what he isn't saying.
Try the app yourself – no need to be an expert at it, or throw tons of information, but set up an account so you aren’t guiding them without any knowledge.
Encourage him to keep personal information private – while the purpose of social media is to share and connect, your teen should know that his personal information should remain within appropriate limits. Be minimalist and share carefully. This includes his thinking twice about sharing location, contact numbers, email addresses, and other family-related details.
Prompt your teen to carefully select his connections – your teen would naturally want to have as many “friends” on his network. But educate him on the dangers on friending complete strangers, including other students from his school. Online predators are everywhere scouring for unwitting users. Before your teen accepts friend requests, ask him to thoroughly review the sender’s profile with you.
Apply appropriate security and privacy controls – this goes for all social networks on your teen’s PC and mobile device. Be sure to scan security and privacy policies and implement them accordingly. Use the strictest level of privacy settings you can while you are doing what you need to do with the app.
Teach your teen to “draw the line” – when abuse happens, some teens tend to keep to themselves out of fear and shame. Educate your teen about the implications of hidden online abuses and teach him to report such offenses to you when they happen so you can promptly disclose it to authorities.
Remind them to be kind – what they do and say about themselves and others may reflect on them. They will show the world who they are.
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