What Parents Need to Know about Social Media Apps
Many parents and educators who are striving to keep up with the latest in technological trends, mastering their smartphone, updating their desktop software, and navigating the jungle of entertainment options online, may be missing on of the most significant dangers of the World Wide Web: The social media apps their innocent kids are using. While most adults can teach their kids how to drive a car, fill out a their tax forms, and how to tie a tie, many of them struggle to understand the difference between Snapchat, Messenger, Tinder, Yubo, and Party House.
Here are five of the top chatting apps for teens with a description of their features and risks. And one more important note. Your child’s online accounts are like their in-person playdates: You as their parent have a right to ‘meet’ who they are spending time with, even online, and they do not have a right to privacy any more than they would expect privacy when they have a friend over their house. If you don’t know what apps they’re using, ask them, and ask them to show you what they are doing online. Make it a rule in your house that anything on their social media apps are fair game to supervision. Some experts maintain that by the time they are in high school they should learn that they are responsible for the ramifications of their actions, and that if they get in trouble online that they should learn what the natural consequences are, but that is up to each parent to decide. Don’t be shy about broaching the subject. Too many of our young people are being bullied, harassed, and predated by adults online posing as teenagers who are understanding, especially when their parents just don’t understand them.
App # 1-Yubo
Description: Tinder is an app designed for adults to do online dating. It is an American geosocial networking app that allows users to anonymously choose if they are attracted to another person by swiping left or right depending on if they are attracted to them. Yubo is referred to as “Tinder for Teens,” an app marketed to teenagers, having changed its name from Yellow to Yubo in 2017 and changes some of its features to improve safety.
Warnings: The problem with Yubo is that young boys and girls can access Yubo and create an account without verifying their age, which means that children of any age can lie about how old they are and started using a dating app. While the number one problem for Yubo users is the outages the users report, but there are many more important issues than usability. Yubo is very similar to adult dating apps, and parents, and educators, are concerned that it can be used by sexual predators to hunt for young, unassuming teens who think they are chatting with another teen.
Safeguards: Parents should be aware that Yubo is rated 17+ by the iOS App Store, and T for teen by Google Play. It is really an app for older teens, and may not be appropriate for Christians to use. Any child with a smart phone can register with an active smartphone number. This app is also very discriminatory in how it treats people. If you don’t like the looks of someone, you swipe left and they are rejected. If you swipe right, they are approved.
App # 2-Omegle
Description: Omegle is a free online chatroom which connect users with other people without the need to register. While Yubo requires a registration with name and birthday, which can be faked, this app allows complete anonymity, and allow strangers–users are connected at random to chat or to connect by video.
Warnings: Anybody of any age can use Omegle. Chats are anonymous unless the young people choose to reveal their identity. While the Omegle website recommends young people remain anonymous, there is nothing stopping people from revealing who they are. The website claims that users must be 18 or over, or 13 and up with parent permission and supervision, but there is no technology in place to support these mandates. Omegle has admitted that predators have been known to use the site, and advises caution. It also claims video is monitored, but there is an option for an 18+ or unmoderated section.
Safeguards: Again, this is not a safe app for people under 18, and shouldn’t be used by children with or without supervision. Users can switch from chat to video anytime. There is no registration, and is anonymous on top of this, the perfect lair for a child molester to connect with teens, be the understanding friend or adult, and can be used to groom people for abuse and sex trafficking. Children as young as 7 years old have been reported as using it, and a BBC investigation has revealed how sexually explicity vidoes have been used on the site. The only safeguard is not to use it.
App # 3-Vault
Description: Vault, just as its name says, is an app which allows people of all ages to not just store, but to hide videos and pictures and other files on their digital devices so nobody knows they are there. Vault is designed to provide a service of hiding photos and videos on smart devices, and most parents are unaware of what Vault is and may not know if their child is taking and hiding nude photos on their phone. Even if a parent was aware of Vault, parents cannot access these files without a password or Touch ID.
Warnings: There is a trend with teens to take pictures of themselves naked and to share them with boyfriends and girlfriends, as well as the public in general. Vault is used to hide these pictures from their parents so they don’t find they are sexting and sending nude photos. In Middleton High School is Wisconsin, the FBI was called in to investigate the sharing of nude photos taken by high schoolers, which constitutes child pornography, a federal offense. Vault was designed to facilitate the capturing and storage of these types of files. Whats worse is that some apps like Vault have the appearance of a calculator or some other innocuous app, so that parents have no idea there is something sinister laying underneath.
Safeguards: While teachers may not have a right to look at a student’s phone to see what apps they are using, parents do have a legal right and a moral obligation to screen what apps their teens are using and to moderate their usage time. In the case of Vault, no child should be using their phones to create files that require encrypted security and and secrecy provided by Vault. Again, there are safety features which actually work against parents. Vault has a feature called “photo-locker which secretly takes a picture of anybody trying to access the app without the right security pin and sends a security update and warning that someone is trying to ‘hack’ their phone. For a businessperson travelling in another country, this might be a helpful feature, but for your average school-age boy or girl, this is tanamount to being an accessory to federal crimes. Parents should develop a policy in which they can look at a child’s phone at any time and if they don’t comply, and open any app with the correct password, then the phone should be taken away from them. This is not a joke.
App # 4-Houseparty
Description: Houseparty’s website features happy, upbeat young adults using this app as a way to connect with friends and have fun. In its conception, House Party may have had the best of intentions to provide a platform with which friends can keep connected and up to date, like a youthful Facebook Messenger or Hangouts. Houseparty offers in-app video games which the whole group can play, like video games and trivia games. This app is owned by Epic Games, the publishers of Fortnite. This social networking service provides a venue for up to eight friends to connect by video with a helpful notification when their friends are logged in. This free, secure app offers an infinite number of ‘rooms’ for friends to occupy virtually and video-chat. When a group of students are back home after school they can log in and notify that they are going to be meeting, and voila, it’s a house party.
Warnings: Unfortunately, this group video chat leaves the door open for bullying or sexually explicit activities. There is an option to ‘lock’ the room, not allowing any other friends into the room during video chats, a feature which has its pros and cons. This can open the door to bullying and shutting certain friends out of the discussion.
Another very concerning feature is the geo-location information which predators can use to determine the location of the party’s members. This app can also be used for datamining when it requires each user to hand over their entire contacts list. Some users have complained about being hacked after using Houseparty. Users have also experienced ‘porn-bombing’, when users display explicit images or video for others to see.
Safeguards: Parents need to take control of these apps and allow usage only under adult supervision, the same way they would supervise activities when in-person visits happen at home. While there are many issues with Houseparty, it could be an enjoyable app for friends to connect with, but only close adult supervision.
App # 5-Sarahah
Description: This is an unusual app having been created in Saudi Arabia as a social networking service designed to provide a venue for people to constructive feedback to users. It was originally designed to allow people to anonymously give feedback to their company and bosses so that they could communicate honestly. Sarahah is anonymous messaging app, similar to Omegle, meaning that users do not know who they are chatting with.
Warnings: Sarahah removed from the iTunes and Google stores after serious bullying accusations were made by parents. The anonymous messaging allows people to send harassing, sexist, or racist comments to people with no way to track back who is sending the messages.
Safeguards: Parents should be careful if their children are using Sarahah or any other similar anonymous apps. What was initially a well-intentioned service to provide unvarnished response to businesses and bosses has turned into a venue to berate and abuse people online.
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