You finally acquiesced and agreed to give your kids a smartphone. But you’re still not sure. Is it totally safe for a child to have a phone? Sure, you can keep in touch with your offspring… but is that really why they wanted the phone? Or was that just you?
Do your children have another purpose in mind for the expensive iPhone you just shelled out for?
Quite possibly. A bunch of apps pose as being ideal for children and young adults but actually turn out to be pretty horrific. We couldn’t possibly cover them all here, but have collected five of the worse for you to consider.
It isn’t just social networks, either. Games, dating apps, and tricks that hide app icons are all misused, either by your kids or by online predators.
It might appear to be an innocent Minecraft clone, but Roblox is a pretty unpleasant place if you’re a child. Building things from blocks is nice, sure; interacting with some of the other players is utterly objectionable, however.
Of course, not every other player on Roblox is an abusive creep or a pedophile. But parents need to be aware of just what is going on in the game. This can prove quite difficult, and even if you join the game yourself you’re not aware of everything that is going on. Fortunately, Roblox has introduced some safety features as of 2017, with parental controls for disabling in-game chat, age appropriate settings, and improved moderation.
Is this enough for you? Obviously, you can only permit what you feel comfortable with. If Roblox seems like it’s not ideal for your children, why not try Minecraft instead? Creating your own local Minecraft server and inviting the whole family to play is straightforward, using a standard PC, or even a Raspberry Pi.
You’re no doubt aware of Snapchat, the “handy” encrypted chat app that lets people sent messages (including photos) with a shelf life. Basically, the message is destroyed shortly after it is received, screengrab tools notwithstanding.
Snapchat is also rife with sexting (that’s text messages with sexual content), a growing problem among teenaged users. Sending sexually explicit (or even simply nude) images is illegal across the western world, in an attempt to battle child pornography. Snapchat, therefore, poses a particular risk not only to your child’s sexual health but to their liberty.
Concerned about Snapchat? Kik and the anonymous Yik Yak app are also worth worrying about.
3. Dating Apps: Think About It!
Online dating is a massive industry. Teenagers and young adults are coached by culture to want to be appealing to their peers. Several dating apps are accessible to children as young as 13 thanks to Facebook integration.
What could possibly go wrong?
In short, if you’re children have dating apps on their phones, it’s time for a conversation. These apps encourage anonymous “relations” and one-night stands. If your children are studying hard, this isn’t the sort of distraction they need. Not to mention the potential these apps have for ruining reputations.
You could also look at it this way: swiping (as per Tinder) is an incredibly superficial action, and utterly disrespectful. The teen/young adult age is when concepts like respect for others needs to be emphasized.
Few people have found long-lasting happiness after a few minutes in a dating app.
The internet has many dark places: the Dark Web, for instance, or Usenet. Then there are the sites only accessible via Tor. When it comes to the web itself, things are largely out in the open. Until it comes to Tumblr, a pretty unusual place with its own culture.
Ostensibly, Tumblr is a social blogging platform, with a regular audience. Unfortunately, adult material is common, there is a risk of identity theft, and there’s an unhealthy attitude to eating disorders and self-harm.
There’s also the fact that whatever your child posts (Tumblr encourages the posting of images) is instantly available for everyone in the world (and in particular, Tumblr) to view. Admittedly, Tumblr use can help encourage the development of interests and hobbies. However, other (more responsible) sites also fill that function.
Monitoring your child’s use of Tumblr is recommended. Suggesting they look elsewhere for blogging software or researching hobbies is a good idea.
Popular question and answer site Ask.fm is a social network aimed at 11-to-14-year-olds, ostensibly to help them find out more about the world.
Except, it doesn’t really work like that: well, unless we’re talking about the world of cyberbullying.
This is the prevailing view of Ask.fm and unfortunately, at this stage, its public face is unlikely to ever recover.
At this point, you’re no doubt wondering: what the hell is wrong with people? Why would children and young adults abuse the opportunity to learn more than any previous generation? Why misuse such a potentially wonderful resource with reprehensible behavior?
Of course, the truth is that it’s only a few bad ones causing the problems. But protecting your children means avoiding the website, and uninstalling or blocking the app. Read our detailed look at Ask.fm to find out more.
Watch Out for Jailbroken iPhones and Rooted Androids
Finally, how your youngsters use their iPhone and Android devices is a potential risk. While we would encourage anyone to explore the advantages and disadvantages of running Jailbreak, or rooting your Android device, for kids this is potentially a problem.
Apps that can make icons appear to “vanish” from view can be misused. Such apps are available on both iOS (once the Cydia store is installed) and Android. Supposedly aimed at helping the user perform other tasks (such as clearing up many screens of app icon clutter), these apps can be employed to hide apps and games.
Perhaps not so sinister… but it depends on what is being hidden. Violent games? Dating apps? Worse?
Whatever the case, there’s really no need to Jailbreak your teen’s phone. And it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to root your Android in future.
Get Your Children on Board With Smartphone Safety
What’s covered above is just the tip of the iceberg. So what should you do next? And are there other apps your children may have installed?
Well, abandoning the idea of a phone may not be the best approach. Instead, check the links, get the full facts, discuss with your partner. Only then bring your children into the conversation. Help them to understand the privilege of having a phone; explain their responsibilities, not only in looking after the device, but the content, and themselves.
What do you think? What are your concerns about mobile apps for children and young adults? Have you already encountered questionable apps? How did you deal with this?
Image Credit: belchonock/Depositphotos