Thirteen Apps You Need to Know About When Buying Technology for Your Teens This Christmas

Are you thinking about buying your child or grandchild a new piece of technology for Christmas?

There are a few things you should be aware of – including these four apps that are potentially dangerous and easily available to your children to download free. As parents and guardians we work constantly to ensure the safety of our kids. We check in on them while they’re out and teach basic and important safety lessons like looking both ways before crossing the street.  We keep an eye on them whenever we can. But what about their digital lives?

Imagine dropping your child off in a large city – New York, San Diego, Paris? You drop them off on a street corner and say, “I’ll see you in three hours…” and then let them wander wherever they want; going into various establishments and stores, interacting with strangers on every street corner. Handing your child a smartphone without monitoring how they are using it is virtually the same. The digital world is huge and new apps are being created and introduced every day. It can be difficult to know which apps are safe and which are dangerous. The virtual world puts our children in constant communication with others – and often the very apps they are using to stay in touch with friends also put them in contact with online predators, strangers and bullies. The best way to protect your children is to arm yourself with information and take a proactive approach to your child’s smartphone and tablet use.

Here are thirteen apps you should be aware of:

1.  CHATOUS

Chatous is a messaging app that randomly connects users with others all over the world which makes it unsafe for children and teens. This app is specifically designed to put users in contact with strangers and allows them to send disappearing messages meaning that there is no way of supervising use of this app. Users can block and/or report content but there is no moderation of content on the app. Complaints about the app include the fact there have been users that pretend to be a member of the opposite gender and that many users have received lewd photos and videos from others.

2. MEETME

MeetMe is a dating app that allows users to connect with people based on geographic proximity. The whole idea of this app is to create new relationships, so the app works by almost exclusively connecting teens with strangers. App users are encouraged to meet in person. The app only requires that user be 13 years old and there are no privacy settings, so every detail that your teens adds to there profile is available for everyone to see. There are various search filters that allow users to find other users based on relationship status, age, sex, location and even body type.

3. WHATSAPP

WhatsApp is a popular messaging app with over 1 billion downloads that allows users to send texts, photos, voicemails, and make calls and video chats anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection, without any logs to the cellular carrier. The group chat function allows for information to be sent to 250 people at a time, this allows for widespread misinformation, pictures, cyber-bullying and other inappropriate messages to be sent around an entire school in just minutes.

4. BUMBLE

Bumble is an app similar to “Tinder,”, however it is labeled as “feminist dating app”. The dating app requires women to make the first contact. Kids have been known to create fake Bumble accounts that falsify their age. All photos uploaded to the profile are public. It is described as a “hook-up” app where women are in control.

5. LIVE.ME:

LIVE.ME is an addicting, live-streaming video app that uses geolocation to share videos so users can find out a broadcaster’s exact location. Users can earn “coins” as a way to “pay” minors for photos. The more videos posted and watched the more points and levels that are reached. This provides a false sense of self-esteem with the goal to get more followers. This can lead to teens possibly broadcast risker, sexually explicit images and videos for more points.

6. Ask.fm

Ask.fm is a social networking site that uses a question and answer format, allowing teens to learn more about their friends and peers as well as people from all over the world. Seemingly innocuous, Ask.fm is being used by teens to abuse and bully others, made easier by the fact that there is no filtration or moderation of the content and questions being asked. Ask.fm has been linked to teen suicides around the globe.

7. GRINDR

GRINDR is a dating app geared towards the LGBT community. The app gives users options to chat, share photos, and meet up based on a phone’s GPS. This allow teens to be pinpointed to a specific location with distance displayed for potential matches. The app comes with a “discreet” app icon allowing the user to change the icon appearance.

8. TIKTOK:

TikTok is a mobile device app popular with kids. It’s used for creating and sharing short videos. With very limited privacy controls, users are vulnerable to cyber bullying and explicit content. It mostly popular with the under 16 age group but age requirements are at least 13 years of age with a birthdate required for age verification. This app as similar dangers as other short video posting apps, however with this app users can see all content without creating an account.

9. SNAPCHAT

Snapchat is popular among teens and adults alike as a fast-paced photo sharing and messaging app.  While the app promises users can take a photo/video and it will disappear, new features, including “stories”, allows users to view content for up to 24 hours. Snapchat also allows users to see your location. The app allows you to send photos, videos, or messages to other users with a set amount of viewing time. After that time expires or the user navigates away from the message, it self-destructs, and cannot be seen again unless a screenshot is taken.

10. SKOUT

Skout is a location-based “flirting” app used to chat and meet with new people. While users under 17 old are unable to share private photos, kids can easily create an account with an older age. Once the user turns 18, according to the entered birthday, they are automatically moved to the adult group. Or adults can create an account with a younger birthday to be included in the teens group.

11. BADOO:

BADOO is a dating and social networking app where users can chat, share photos and videos and connect based on location. While the app is intended for adults only, teens are known to create profiles. The app requires “credits” to initiate a conversation; credits are provided through taking surveys, downloading apps or paying to send a message.

12. KIK

KIK is a messaging app that allows your kids to send group and private messages and is continually making headlines as it is one of the most dangerous apps for teens. Allows anyone to contact and direct message to your child. Kids can bypass traditional messaging features. KIK gives users unlimited access to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It is important to know that Kik limits how many recent messages are saved, saving only a certain number within 48 hours and older, making it difficult for parents to monitor their child’s chats. Kik also makes it very difficult to identify both the sender and receiver of messages as there is no profile verification. Although this app is extremely popular for kids under the age of 18, it is also very popular with sexual predators.

13. WHISPER

Whisper is an anonymous app allows users to connect in groups based upon their interests and location in order to confess secrets. While the app is rated 17+, Whisper still allows users aged 15-17 to use the platform. Posts in this app are called “whispers” and users can sift through topics and then reply publicly or direct message the poster. What makes Whisper one of the most dangerous apps for kids are the anonymous features as well as the location-based grouping. Pair that with the ability for other local anonymous users to direct message your children and your child could easily to be in contact with an online predator.

Here’s what parents and teens need to remember – nothing sent over the internet disappears. Someone, somewhere has some way of getting their hands on that picture or that message. What many teens fail to remember is that even though many apps only make images or posts available for a short time, receivers are able to take screenshots of what they are sent. Some apps will notify the sender if someone takes a screenshot of a photo or video you’ve sent them, but there is no way to prevent them from distributing to others. These screenshots can act as potentially devastating fuel for cyber-bullying, should your teen mistakenly share too much about themselves or someone else. Also, with GPS capabilities that all smartphones and tablets have it is relatively easy for predators to track and find your children.

Parents, you are not being nosy by checking your child’s cell phone on a regular basis. This is the responsible thing to do. Your child’s safety is more important than their privacy.

Check out this warning from a police department in Madill, Oklahoma: https://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Police-15-apps-every-parent-should-know-542128531.html

Shelby Whitlock is Care Net Pregnancy Center of Southern Maryland’s Outreach and Education Director. She directs REEF (Relationship Essentials that Equip Families) and through this program teaches healthy education to middle and high school age teens in Southern Maryland. You can reach Shelby at our Lexington Park office 301-737- 4604 or by email: outreach@carenetsomd.org.