What Do Those Apps on Your Child’s Phone Really Do?

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Parents of children who are growing up in this age where smartphones are practically appendages are constantly behind the curve. Most kids are incredibly tech-savvy and when you couple that with the knowledge base they gain from their friends at school, it is nearly impossible for parents to know what all the apps on a phone do.

Most of the popular apps come to the forefront relatively quickly and generate news coverage, giving parents with limited free time a chance to pick up information through regular news consumption. However, many apps are popular among kids and teenagers never make the news, which means parents are left looking at app icons on phones and not knowing what they do.

Many apps are only popular for a short amount of time, others are changed completely and lose their following or are bought by rivals. The most dangerous apps are ones where the content is not policed, and can make children targets for bullying and other criminal behavior.

Snapchat appeals to youth and teens because of the ethereal nature of its content. Videos sent via Snapchat are deleted after 10 seconds, meaning they can typically only be watched once and then are gone forever. Or so users thought. As it turned out, the videos were not permanently deleted and those who received a “snap” could take a screenshot of different frames. Snapchat’s popularity has waned in recent months, but it still presents young smartphone users with a way to send and/or receive explicit content with no ability for intermediaries to review. Unfortunately, this also means it has become a popular medium for sending child pornography.

Apps such as Houseparty are geared towards video sharing and conferencing with friends and others. Houseparty’s videos are live and can include multiple individuals. Again, the concern here is the lack of regulation along with a lack of restriction on who can participate in a group’s calls.

Most children and teens tend to migrate towards photo and video sharing apps. Apps like these are less real-time focused but are designed to give the user the ability to share simple pictures and videos with other users who “follow” them. Instagram and Tumblr are two of the most popular platforms. Instagram allows users to report inappropriate content, but the content can still be found by kids and teens seeking it out. Whisper is a content-sharing app that is geared towards encouraging openness among its user by providing some anonymity. On this app, users anonymously tell their secrets. However, the app also provides location information, which cuts down on just how much anonymity one can have.

Messaging apps such as Kik, Look, Omegle, and Voxer are designed to give users instantaneous communication ability coupled with voice, video, and emojis. Bullying has been an increasing issue on Voxer, as the messages are spoken, not written, and are saved in the app, creating the ability to play them numerous times. Kik and Look have similar bullying problems, but also have issues with explicit content that parents of users must be concerned with.

Social connectivity apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Tinder are designed to be more public and to connect people and share information publicly. Tinder has become an app used by many for one-off sexual encounters. Facebook and Twitter, while not designed as dating apps, still provide opportunities to share and connect with unknown or unfamiliar individuals, which creates a large amount of risk for children and teens who are much more susceptible to influence.

Parents of teens are encouraged to keep an open line of communication with their kids about their social media usage and to try and educate them about the dangers of many of these apps. Parents are also encouraged to password-protect app downloads and purchases, to ensure that any applications purchased or downloaded are first approved by the password holder. Finally, parents should ask their children questions about their social media usage. Being comfortable with communicating with a parent can make a child more likely to be upfront about what exactly that app on their phone really does.

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