If you were nervous because your kids could post inappropriate messages and pictures on Facebook, you now have Snapchat, Vine and Instagram to contend with. And that’s just the social media category. Many other apps provide similar communication functions and experiences, which make it easier than ever to pass information along to the masses.
The vast number of popular social media sites available for children, particularly on their mobile devices, has exploded in recent years. Kids can now chat, post and message without limits….with anyone. And many of the new mobile apps don’t require a credit card or cellphone to use.
Rather, kids can use them on tablets and eReaders, as long as they have a web connection. Pew Research Center says that more than three-fourths of teenagers have a cellphone and use online social networking sites such as Facebook, and what’s worse, there are adult onlookers in the mix.
One of the most popular mobile apps among kids is Instagram, free software that digitally enhances photos and posts them to your account online. There’s also Snapchat, coined by the media as the “sexting” app. Snapchat lets you send a text, photo or video that self-destructs within 10-seconds after it is opened.
Kik Messenger also gives you unlimited texting for free and offers anonymity to its users. It’s able to run on tablet or Kindle and allows vague user names that won’t reveal a person’s real name or phone number.
But as with anything online, each of these apps comes with serious cautions. These include app functions that don’t perform properly, and can reveal detailed information about a user even if the settings are set properly. Cross it off as the imperfections of coding software. Whatever you want to call it, the bottom line is that it causes serious security and safety issues amongst its user base.
Generally speaking, parents often give their children a mobile device without any knowledge of what it is capable of doing. Kids know how to use them, though….more than we give them credit for. It is estimated that even without the latest social media app, the average high school student probably transmits some 150-texts a day. The problem is the actions (texts, messages, photos, videos) get documented, replayed and sent around to others……and fast.
A recent report by a cyberthreat research company, called F-Secure, found that some of the new social networking sites have become ripe targets for predators, scams and malware.
Personal Data is not Safe
Another issue that these social sites and other mobile apps collect and propagate our valuable personal data, such as a person’s birthdate or the location of their phone, and shares that information with third parties for marketing purposes. While a new regulation by the FTC is helping keep advertisers from tracking kids younger than 13, most social media apps require that a person promise to be at least 13 when they sign up, thereby exempting themselves from the tougher privacy restrictions. This ain’t good news for parents or their kids. It’s literally giving these companies an irresponsibility hall pass.
A big hurdle for parents includes getting over the idea that they are invading their kids’ privacy by monitoring online activity. Rather, it can be the child’s first lesson that nothing online is truly private anyway. The best thing to do for children these days is to expose them to this threat, and be very clear that social media, online content and social media is a great technological tool that should be used with knowledge, care and caution.