None of us is born with the immediate ability to care for ourselves and make the best decisions for our lives. We all came into this world as helpless babies, unable to perform even the simplest of tasks.
It’s the overarching responsibility of parents to care for their children and make decisions for them until those children are able to transition into caring for themselves and making their own decisions, growing into adults and parents themselves.
To be responsible for someone means having an obligation to do something or having control over someone, as part of one’s role.
But we all branch off into a million different directions when it comes to the methods and timing of these transitions.
Some parents hold firm that their children should be given the chance to spread their wings or fall flat at an early age. Then there are parents who nearly make every decision for their children until their 18th birthday. Every parent is one extreme or the other… or somewhere in between.
Regardless of where you are on the parenting spectrum, I am making a case that every parent out there, me included, should hold fast to our responsibility to our children to look out for them to the best of our abilities for as long as we are parents and they are children.
Disclaimer: I am not at all suggesting that if we each act responsibly as parents, bad things won’t still happen to our children. They do and they will. We are human beings and even our best intentions and efforts can fall flat.
As a mother and a private investigator, education is my focus. I want to educate parents on the ever-evolving rapid pace world in which our children are growing up that is filled with technology and advancements that far outpace our ability to keep up.
Communication is something most all of us crave, to varying degrees. Nowhere is that more evidenced than in the boom we’ve seen with social platforms in the last 20 years. Facebook was the fearless leader that forged its way into nearly every home and is still going strong, but not without some feisty competitors rushing up the ranks with fury - SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest…
Many of us parents have our own Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or Pinterest accounts, at least enough so that we are fairly comfortable with the ins and outs of each platform.
Even if we aren’t as familiar with others like SnapChat, Google+, YouTube, Tumblr, and WhatsApp, we probably at least recognize their names and know a bit about each of them.
But what about musical.ly, Kik, Viber, Twitch, Line, GroupMe, Whisper, Afterschool, YouNow, Periscope, Telegram, and many, many others?
Do you know what platforms your children are using on their smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles, laptops, smart watches, and other devices? What are their favorite messaging apps? Who are they communicating with?
If your child has unfettered access to social media, they have unfettered access to the world… and the world has unfettered access to them.
We need to stop using the excuse that our children know more than we do about (fill in the blank) and it’s impossible to keep up. We also need to stop being so naive to think that “my child would never (fill in the blank).”
Here’s the reality. Our children have extremely easy, uncensored, unmonitored access to all the bad things in the world. And it’s all literally at the tips of their fingers.
Bad things no longer only happen when our children are physically present with the danger. They are happening while they are in classrooms at school, sitting on the school bus, driving home alone in their cars, sitting in youth group at church, and in their own bedrooms in our houses, right under our noses.
Social media not only presents a danger to our children as potential victims, but it also can more easily enable negative behavior in them such as bullying (which can lead to child or teen suicide), sexting (which can lead to child pornography charges), drug involvement (which can lead to arrest, dysfunction, or death), or some such ridiculousness as snorting condoms (which can lead to death).
Our children need us now more than ever.
So instead of sitting idly by, tossing our hands in the air as a sign of helplessness, let’s do something about it.
We can start by stalking every single social media platform and messaging app that our children use. Here’s a little something to get us all started:
- App for editing and sharing photos and 15-second videos
- Content is defaulted to be shared publicly until privacy settings are adjusted
- Users typically crave likes and follows
- Hashtags and location information are often used, which is definitely problematic for safety reasons
- Instagram Direct offers photo sharing with up to 15 friends without showing up on public feeds, which sometimes promotes the sharing of inappropriate material within smaller groups
- Messaging app that promotes secrecy by placing a time limit on photos and videos sent before they disappear; however, users can screenshot anything before it disappears (newsflash, data never disappears)
- Encourages sexting and other inappropriate behaviors
- Discover feature offers articles, videos, and quizzes that sometimes aren’t appropriate
- Most widely-used social media platform
- Over-sharing abounds
- Parents should oversee privacy settings so children and teens aren’t inadvertently sharing their locations, events they are attending, check-ins, etc.
- Users’ entire lives can often be pieced together using their profiles if they are active users of this platform
- Offers a “live” setting in which users can share live videos; assaults and even murders have occurred previously on Facebook Live videos
- Most popular microblogging tool, which offers up to 140 character “tweets”
- Often used by teens to stay informed about news and celebrities
- Tweets can be changed to private, but most users maintain fully public profiles
- An online pinboard for collecting images
- Users interact with each other by liking, commenting, or re-pinning
- Contains adult content in both photo and video forms
- Users can be followed by strangers unless privacy settings are set to prevent it
- Some children and teens post their own personal photos on Pinterest, which can be dangerous
- Meant to be a competitor for Facebook
- Offers circles, which are used to create particular social circles for a user, such as a family circle, work circle, school circle, etc.; meant to personalize sharing within smaller groups
- Offers hangouts, which provide group video chat and instant messaging features; can be publicly broadcast to YouTube
- Promotes checking-in from your mobile device, which can be set up to do for you automatically, simply based off of your mobile device’s GPS information
- Video-sharing site that boasts music videos, instructional videos, and every other homemade/amateur video imaginable
- YouTube Kids is meant to provide a safe space for kids to watch videos, but some users exploit this feature and intentionally place kid-friendly characters into highly inappropriate videos
- Users can inadvertently share personal information via the background of their videos, landmarks, school name, license plate number, etc.
- Videos can be marked private or public
- Graphic language, explicit messages, and other inappropriate material is common
- Somewhere between a blog and Twitter, this platform streams texts, videos, photos, and audio clips
- Initial profiles are automatically public and the only way to make a profile private is to create a second one
- Users create and follow “tumblogs” that can be made public, which are also often re-blogged by other users
- Depictions of pornography, violence, self harm, drugs, and offensive language are all common
- App for texting, audio messaging, video and photo sharing; dominates as the most popular mobile messaging app
- Teens have more privacy with WhatsApp than others, which can be problematic; they use it to communicate with more selective groups
- Majority of users are under age 25
- Sexting and inappropriate photos are commonplace
- Predators often find children and/or teens on more mainstream platforms, then move the conversation to WhatsApp or another private app where the conversation quickly turns inappropriate and exploitative
- Location feature reveals exact locations of photos and videos taken, but it can be turned off
- Unofficial dating app with a “match” feature that encourages users to secretly admire each other
- Possesses a large user base, which means communication is fast-paced and attention is guaranteed
- Users chat with whoever is online at the time or search locally for other users
- To register, users must share their first and last name, age, and zip code OR they can register through their Facebook account, which are both risky
- App automatically asks for permission to use location services on mobile devices in order to find close matches wherever they go, which is super risky
- App for sharing videos, geared toward music
- Can share posts publicly, which many teens do in order to gain exposure and approval
- Swearing and sexual content are both extremely common
- App for texting
- Allows communication with strangers
- Has already been used in such crimes as murder and child pornography
- Loaded with marketing
- App for texting, audio messaging, and video and photo sharing, similar to WhatsApp
- Offers “secret chats” and “secret messages” that self-destruct after a certain time limit and that can be hidden using a PIN code as well
- As you can imagine, inappropriate content abounds
- All messages are encrypted
- Leading live-streaming video platform in the U.S.; largely focuses on video game live-streaming
- Channel allows users to stream video doing just about anything
- Contains excessive sexual and violent content
- Hugely popular with young males
- Group video chat for 2-8 people
- Ability to lock a chat so no one else can join who isn’t already approved
- Users can take screenshots during a live video chat, which can then be shared on any platform
- It’s impossible to predict what you might see in a live video chat with others
- Chat site that brings two anonymous strangers together for a text or video chat; users can filter chat partners through shared interests
- No registration required
- Many users are searching for sexual chats, often offering links to pornography sites
- Explicit language abounds
- App for messaging, voice, and video calls, but also includes social media elements such as games, group chats, and personal timelines
- Includes an option for “hidden chats” which deletes messages after a brief time, similar to SnapChat
- Privacy options allow users to keep their user ID private and filter messages from strangers
- Live video streaming that offers no control over who views their content
- Inappropriate content abounds
- Predators manipulate underage users to perform sexual acts, reward them with virtual currency, then post screen captures or video recordings online that are often also sold and distributed as child pornography
- App for texting, sharing photos and videos, and calendar links
- Embedded GIFs and emojis have adult themes
- Can promote negative behavior; 83 students at a U.S. college were found guilty of using the app to cheat
- App for meeting new people, known as “Tinder for teens” because users swipe right or left to accept or reject profiles of other users
- Easy for users to lie about their age (If a user enters a birth date that indicates they are under 13, the app immediately defaults to an acceptable age so an account can be created)
- Every user is “geotagged” and no private profiles are allowed, which encourages contact with strangers
- App for anonymously posting whatever is on the user’s mind, paired with an image
- Contains a lot of sexual content
- Users commonly hook up with other people nearby, post confessions of desire and other inappropriate content, and share nearly nude photos
- Common topics of discussion are insecurity, depression, substance abuse, and lying
- Sharing personal information is encouraged in a “meet up” section of the app
- Tagline is “funny anonymous school news for confessions and compliments”
- Provides anonymous and private message boards for schools
- Messages are videos, photos, or text
- Promotes bullying
- Adults can easily pretend to be students (think of those with nefarious purposes)
- Impersonating others is easy
- Live video streaming
- musical.ly is the parent app
- Users often share their content publicly to gain exposure, same as musical.ly, which poses many of the same risks
- App for broadcasting, chatting, and watching live video
- Goal is primarily to gain viewers, start trending, and grow a fan base
- Users respond to requests from viewers in real time
- Lots of swearing and some sharing of personal information (sometimes unintentional) with anonymous viewers
- Some users broadcast the most mundane activities of their lives, promoting the over-sharing of all things in their life
- Live video streaming that encourages viewers to participate in what’s happening in the video via comments, which then allows the poster to respond in real time
- Can view public videos being live-streamed in your area via an interactive map feature; all videos are initially defaulted for public broadcast
- Can replay videos for up to 24 hours
- A user’s metadata is public, though their specific geolocation is not
- Provocative and harassing messages are par for the course, though the user can allow comments from only other users they follow and can now block users
- Pornographic, overtly sexual, and explicitly graphic content are all forbidden, but they all still happen
- Touts itself to be the most secure app for sending messages (through encryption), which is why it has become known as the “messenger app that’s beloved of terrorists”
- Similar to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp
- Uses Snapchat to connect
- Users live video chat with strangers for ten seconds at a time, inviting an extreme level of danger
As a side, social media is not just automatically a terrible tool when in the hands of a child or teenager. Social media can also be educational, uplifting, and a promoter of wonderful things. It’s just our responsibility as parents to be aware of the potential risks that are also associated with social media, especially in the hands of children and teens.
Now that you have a better understanding of some of the platforms that are popular with kids and teens today, start communicating more with your children. Ask them what platforms they use. Show an interest in what interests them. Monitor their device use. Keep an eye on their followers. Talk to them about the dangers of sexting, bullying, drugs, and every insane trend that comes along like snorting condoms or eating Tide pods. Stay informed on current social media trends that are popular with teens. Be aware of the myriad of avenues making their way into your children’s lives.
For even more on this topic, check out my previous blog posts, 15 Things Parents Should Do to Keep Their Kids Safe in Today’s World and The Secrets Your Social Media Profiles are Shouting to the World.
If any content in this article is false, it was completely by mistake and will be adjusted to reflect the facts if brought to the author’s attention. Social platforms and messaging apps operate on ever-changing and very dynamic spheres. What is true today might not be true tomorrow.