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It’s no secret that social media use is rampant among teenagers – but what exactly are they doing when they’re staring at their phone or computer all day?
A general answer like “I’m just talking to my friends!” is a bit misleading – today’s teens have access to a nearly endless supply of apps that allow them to send selfies, GIFs, videos, secrets, and locations with varying degrees of privacy and security – and most parents have no idea what these apps (with non-descriptive names like “Yik Yak” and “Kik”) are!
Why Are Teens Hiding Their Social Media?
A lot of the time teenagers aren’t hiding these apps to be sneaky or because they’re actively doing something wrong — they just want to have a place where they are free to be themselves online.
Unlike Facebook, these apps give them a place to post honestly about how they feel without worrying about Aunt Gertrude’s watchful eye.
Unfortunately, younger teens don’t always have the best judgment about what information is safe to share online and what isn’t, and they can quickly find themselves at the centre of gossip, scandal, or dangerous situations.
This article isn’t intended to be a “ban list” for parents – the apps teenagers use can be a great way for them to communicate with their friends in creative ways, and it’s important for teenagers (especially older teens) to have some privacy and ownership over their online life and friendships.
However, it is important for parents to be aware of the apps their teens are using, and the security risks that they might be facing. I’d suggest using these summaries as a way to start a conversation with your teen about the apps they use, why they’re using them, and what steps they’re already taking to ensure that they’re safe online.
What is it? Snapchat is an app that allows users to send photos and selfies to other users, but the photos only last for ten seconds before they (theoretically) disappear forever. There are many other surprising things people can do on Snapchat — from animated filters, to contributing to live stories, to reading short news snippets, Snapchat has become a force to be reckoned with in the social media world.
Why your teen loves it: Snapchat is addictive, it’s fun, and it’s what everyone else is using! It has skyrocketed in popularity and become the go-to way for teens to communicate with each other via photos, videos, and texts.
What you should know: There have been many reported cases of Snapchat being used for “sexting” and cyber-bullying, and it can be hard to find evidence of this harmful behaviour because of Snapchat’s timed self-destruct feature for photos and texts. Many teens may also follow or be followed by people that they do not know.
- Your teen should set their privacy settings to “friends only”
- Educate your teen on the legalities/risks of sending risqué photos (and remember there are ways people can take screenshots)
- You may choose to have a Snapchat account of your own so you can see the photos your child is adding to their “Story” (a set of snaps viewable by anyone on their friends list)
2. Yik Yak
What is it? Yik Yak is an anonymous message board that displays messages from any users within a 10-mile radius. Messages (or “yaks”) can be upvoted, downvoted, or commented on by all other users.
Why your teen loves it: Yik Yak is a great way to get the scoop on what’s going on in your local area, and the anonymous side of it allows users to speak their minds freely about topics that other people nearby will relate to.
What you should know: Anonymity comes at a price. While there generally is an implicit Yik Yak Etiquette Code, several school campuses have banned Yik Yak due to cyber-bullying concerns.
- Don’t share identifying details
- Don’t meet up with people from Yik Yak — you don’t know who they are!
- Have discussions about bullying
What is it? Tumblr is a microblogging platform that gives users access to unlimited blog posts of all kinds (including text, photos, videos, links, and GIFs) and related to any subject under the sun. Users follow blogs they are interested in, and can reblog content to their own blog or create content of their own.
Why your teen loves it: No matter what TV show, political issue, or game your teen loves, there will be a Tumblr community dedicated to it. Teens also love having the ability to express themselves via their personal blog and meet others across the world who share their interests.
What you should know: While many Tumblr communities are harmless or beneficial, others can be dedicated to darker topics such as self harm, explicit images, or putting others down. There’s also the risk that one of your teen’s Tumblr posts will go viral and be seen (and commented on) by people across the globe with all the benefits and risks that that entails.
- Your teen may want to use an extension such as Tumblr Savior to blacklist certain tags so that they do not appear on their blog feed.
- Talk about the negative areas of Tumblr openly with your teen, and be a safe person for them to come to with questions or concerns about anything that they’ve seen
What is it? Whisper is a secret sharing app akin to post secret – type in your secret, add a photo of your choosing, and share it with the world.
Why your teen loves it: Whisper can be a great way for your teen to get their secrets off their chest in an anonymous environment, and they may enjoy seeing what secrets others around them are sharing as well.
What you should know: Whisper has been linked to cyberbullying in the past, and many users post mature secrets on the app. Posts on Whisper have also been featured on sites like Buzzfeed without contacting the secret’s owner first, and some Whisper users attempt to use the app to meet up with other people.
- This article lists ten things not to do on Whisper in order to keep it a safe experience for younger users.
- Talk with your teenager about the importance of maintaining anonymity on unsecured sites like Whisper, and about when it is and isn’t okay to carry on a conversation with strangers online.
What is it? Everyone knows about YouTube, but your teen might be visiting (or contributing to) corners of the video-sharing platform that you don’t know about.
Why your teen loves it: YouTube is a magical place full of hilarious cat videos, video game walkthroughs, and endless music videos. What is there not to love?
What you should know: Many teens have their own YouTube channel where they may upload “vlogs” (video blogs) about their daily lives, captures of them playing through video games, or recordings of them covering their favourite songs. This can be a fun way to share their talent with the world and receive feedback from their peers, but can also result in safety concerns and negative comments. As well, some of the content on YouTube is decidedly unsavory.
- Your teen may place themselves at risk while trying to emulate the big YouTube vloggers that they watch every day. Talk to your teen about how much of their life should be visible to strangers online (they should not be talking about where they live/go to school for example) and how important it is for them to be thoughtful with the things they choose to say.
- YouTube commenters can be some of the nastiest people on the Internet. Have conversations with your teen about any comments that they’ve received online, and help them to process them in a healthy way.
What is it? Kik is a popular instant messaging service that allows users to send messages, links, photos, GIFs, and videos over an Internet connection.
Why your teen loves it: Teenagers aren’t dumb about Internet safety – Kik is a great way to have private conversations with strangers without giving them your phone number or personal social media profiles!
What you should know: Unfortunately, just because Kik is a better way to talk to strangers than text or Facebook doesn’t mean it’s actually all that safe. There are some important things to know before your kids start using Kik, because there have been many cases of Kik being used as a medium for cyberbullying and predators.
- Teens should only share their Kik with people that they have interacted with online and trust – posting your Kik in public places (such as an Instagram bio or an online forum) is decidedly unsafe.
- Talk to your teenager about how to talk to strangers safely online, and discourage them from meeting up with anyone they meet online without having your approval and a safe plan!
What is it? ASKfm is designed to let users answer questions asked by other anonymous users.
Why your teen loves it: It’s fun to be the centre of attention and to divulge harmless information about yourself while learning other peoples’ secrets!
What you should know: There’s definitely more than a couple reasons that parents have chosen to prevent their children from using askFM. Like many other anonymous sites it has been a source of cyberbullying, and your teen may share more in a heated moment than they would actually be comfortable saying in real life.
- Make sure your teen knows that they don’t have to answer every question that is asked, and talk to them about how public the things they post on the Internet are.
- Users can choose to disallow anonymous questions, which is often a great way to keep the questions from getting vicious or overly personal!
What is it? Reddit is an online platform with boards (or “subreddits”) dedicated to everything from makeup to television shows to the cutest animal GIFs online. Users can contribute to the conversation by sharing links/posts, assigning up votes and down votes, or adding to a comment thread.
Why your teen loves it: Reddit is one of the largest online communities currently on the Internet, and there is always something interesting to be learned! It’s a great way to find like-minded people, discover interesting links, read compelling stories, and more.
What you should know: While there are definitely some kind communities on Reddit, there’s also a well-known dark side to the site. Your teen may be exposed to explicit racism, sexism, violence, mature content, and other upsetting material if they don’t use discretion while browsing the site.
- Talk with your teen about using discretion while browsing sites, and be available to them if they need to process something that they accidentally stumbled across
- Reddit is notorious for “doxxing” (finding real-life identifying information) about users, often with very little cause. Be sure to talk to your child about the importance of keeping their identity anonymous and the details that they post vague!
What is it? Tinder is just one of many online dating apps currently available for download. You match with others by either liking or disliking their profile based on a selection of photos and a short bio.
Why your teen loves it: It’s fun to know that other people think that you’re attractive, and sometimes downloading an app is easier for high school students than working up the nerve to ask someone out in the hallway!
What you should know: Nearly every dating app is intended for adult users only, however Tinder separates teens aged 13-17 from users 18+ years old using their Facebook age and won’t match teens with older users. If teens are lying about their age in order to use the app, their profiles will be visible to those much older than them. Since the app is intended for adult users, teens may quickly find themselves receiving explicit messages or invitations to meet up.
- This is one app that teens just shouldn’t be using – there are age limits set for a reason, and there’s no way to guarantee their safety on dating apps that are designed to help people connect in the real world.
- If your teen has decided to use a dating app, please have conversations with them about it and discourage them from meeting up with anyone without an adult present!
What is it? Periscope is one of the newest forms of social media and features live-streamed video that can be shared with users’ followers.
Why your teen loves it: It’s like Snapchat, but without any time limitations – and you can interact with people in real time through a comment feed!
What you should know: There are a lot of reasons people should love Periscope, but there are also obvious concerns when it comes to your teenager’s safety. It can be difficult to limit who sees your feed, the real-time content is very tricky for Periscope to screen, and it has already been a source of bullying and harassment for some users.
- Make sure that your teen knows to turn off the “location” feature – otherwise viewers can see exactly where users are streaming their video from!
- Talk with your teenager about what is/isn’t appropriate to stream, and how to handle criticisms from viewers
The Internet Isn’t a Bad Place
If you look hard enough you’ll find something to be scared of on every single corner of the Internet, but teenagers are generally using their social media to enjoy their friends, showcase moments of their lives, and to learn from others – all positive things that can lead to a lot of growth and happiness!
While it can be hard to let your teen use apps that have been associated with so much negativity, it’s also important to trust your teenager and to let them participate in online social activities and learning experiences. The most important thing is to keep lines of communication open, to stay informed about the apps that they are choosing to use, and be available for any hard conversations that you may need to have.
Are there any confusing apps your teen is using that I didn’t discuss here? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to explain!
Image Credits:technology and happiness concept by Syda Productions via Shutterstock