February 26, 2017

Dangerous Dozen, 12 apps all parents should be aware of

Technology can be an amazing tool for our young ones for learning, researching and connecting. It can also be a parent or educator’s worst nightmare. Although the internet and apps can be a great way for our students to explore and learn, it can also quickly turn dangerous.

In this ever changing world, we have to be vigilant to make sure our kids are safe on the web. It is so easy for kids to connect and communicate in ways that were not available when we were young; with the quick changes in technology it can be hard for adults to keep up and keep them safe.

In an attempt to minimize online dangers, we can monitor what our children are doing online and try to keep up with the latest apps and online trends. The better we understand the world of apps and online communication, the better we can protect our children.  

Here is just a few of the most popular apps (for now) among elementary school kids:

1. Youtube
Youtube itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, but without appropriate filters and parental controls kids can quickly be exposed to a plethora of inappropriate content that they are not ready for. Enabling YouTube’s Safety Mode Feature will filter out most of the inappropriate videos and comments left by other users.

2. Video Games
Children playing on Xbox or Playstation may seem harmless enough, however, kids are able to easily communicate with people all over the world through the click of a button on a headset. Many adults that mean to do children harm use this feature as a way to groom vulnerable children in an attempt to meet them in real life. The same dangers are present in interactive games such as Clash of Clans. We assume they are harmlessly playing with other children but sometimes this is not the case. The best way to avoid this is to hang out with your kid once in a while when they are playing and make sure they are staying safe. 

Pay special attention to if your child is playing Robolox. Perpetrators are using this game in specific to target children due to the characters in the game having the ability to be very sexually explicit. 

3. Snapchat
Children think this app is safe because they can send content to friends and strangers that “disappear” in about 10 seconds. It makes children feel secure in sending pictures and videos they may not normally send since the content cannot be saved or shared directly from the app. Children being as smart as they are, have found a work around for this feature. They screenshot the private content, have someone else take a picture of their phone and there are even apps now that allow you to save the pictures and videos without the sender ever knowing. 

4. Instagram/Facebook
The problem with Instagram and Facebook is that many kids are in competition with each other to see how many “likes” they can obtain. Not only does this cause them to leave their profiles on public, (public profiles have a higher probability of being followed by strangers leading to more likes) but it also allows predators to easily access their information and know exactly what to say to them based on their interests and posting patterns. Based on the child’s settings, both of these have location services that will potentially tell the world exactly where your child is posting their photos and status updates from.

5. Musical.ly
This app allows users to create their very own music videos. They can lip sing and dance to the latest hits and then share their creations with the world. As always, it isn’t as innocent as it sounds and kids have used the interactive component to cyber bully each other. Many hurtful messages are posted and shared through this app. If used correctly, it can be very fun and entertaining, just make sure your child isn’t using it to be mean behind the screen.   

6. Live.ly
This is made by the same people who made musical.ly. This app allows users to stream live video content to friends and strangers. The ability to live stream content has flooded this app with predators meaning to do children harm and proposition them in real time.

7. Kik Messenger
This app is referred to simply as Kik and is a free instant messaging service much like text messaging. This is a kid’s go-to app for cyber bullying since you can create an account and send messages, photos and videos completely anonymously to either one person or as a group message. Even if they do create an account in their name, it is easy to send messages and hide them from parents who go through your texts.

8. Whisper
People post messages known as whispers, and receive replies completely anonymously. People post confessions, information about other people, gossip, etc. Once you make a post, someone cannot contact or respond directly to you because they have no idea who posted it, they can only respond to the actual post.  This is a hotbed for cyberbullying because it is virtually untraceable making students feel invincible and able to post anything without repercussions.

9. House party
House party is a way for people to be together even when they are apart. Kids get together through the app and “live chill” from the comfort of their own bedrooms. Kids can live chat and see each other in real time. Beware of who your children are “live chilling” with and if they are people you’d want them to chill with in real life.

10. Ask.fm
People can anonymously ask and answer questions posed by other used. There is no way to increase the privacy settings, if you block someone they can still access your profile and view all of your interactions. This app has been labeled the worst app to communicate bullying, abusive, sexualized content and has been linked to the highest number of suicides among these type of apps.

11. Omegle
This is a website and an app and its entire purpose is to connect you with strangers. Its tagline is “talk to strangers”, that alone should tell kids not to download but alas, they still do. People can chat through text or video with people they have never met before. Beware, just because they start out as strangers behind a screen doesn’t mean they stay that way for long. Predators use this site frequently to befriend and potentially harm vulnerable kids. 

12. Calculator% and Poof
As if all these apps aren’t scary enough and this information alone makes you want to search your kid’s phone with a fine tooth comb deleting every app you see, there is an app to hide all these apps from you. The two most popular are calculator% and poof. Calculator% is used to hide photos and videos that kids do not want parents to see. Poof is used to make apps disappear entirely. 

You can download a brief PowerPoint presentation of these apps, including pictures of what they look like when downloaded on a phone, table or computer HERE

I presented this information to the SAC/PTO at my school and they were shocked by what their children might be exposed to. Together, if we stay vigilant, we can work together to keep these kids safe. 

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