For many teens today, cellphones aren’t a luxury — they’re a necessity for conversing with friends. According to a recent Nielsen survey, 70% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 now own a smart phone. For many law enforcement officers around the country, this statistic is cause for concern — smartphones, and the apps that can be downloaded to them, pose a large variety of safety risks to teenagers.
According to Detective John Stirling, who is working with the Shawnee Police Department in Kansas, child sex crimes are often being committed now using smartphone technology. Stirling explains that many apps are not inherently dangerous, but can become so in the wrong hands.
“The kids might be completely legitimate, not intending anything bad to happen, but unknowingly, they can put themselves in a bad situation,” says Stirling. He points out that parents can use social media monitoring software.
What apps are teenagers actually using today, and what are the potential risks connected with these apps? Here are three apps you should know about.
It’s worth noting that teens like to converge where parents aren’t. This means that monitoring a Facebook wall is unlikely to show you anything anymore. Teens are instead going to sites like Instagram. What many don’t realize is that certain social media apps, like Instagram, come with location services that alert anyone as to where they are. It is also possible for strangers to view images that teens might have only intended for their friends to see. Instagram monitoring tools can be used to make sure that children are not sharing inappropriate information with strangers, without realizing it.
2. Kik Messenger
Messaging apps are increasingly preferred over texting for many teens. Two popular apps are Whatsapp and Kik messenger, which grew from 50 million to 100 million users in 2013 alone. These apps are often a problem because the majority of parents don’t even realize they exist — so they don’t know to keep an eye out for them. Kik can be a problem considering that strangers can message teens, and some apps within Kik are designed for adults. Kik also has “photo bomb,” a feature similar to Snap Chat, which encourages teens to take risky photos under the assumption they will just disappear. Internet parental control software can be used to alert parents when new apps are downloaded or used.
Although many of us look at internet safety with the goal of keeping kids away from predators, there’s another threat lurking in many chat spaces: bullies. Many sites, such as Ask.FM, encourage teens to leave anonymous questions and statements for each other. Not surprisingly, these confrontations can often become ugly and devolve into bullying. While some parents might not want to use social media monitoring software, it can be important for uncovering these things.
Do you have any tips for internet safety? Do you use social media monitoring software? Let us know in the comments.