Keeping Track of What Your Kids Do Online – Part 2

Girl with smartphone

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In the first part of this mini series, we shared a link to an clip from Fox31 in Denver that covered some of the more common apps that kids use. Fox31 also have a short clip and write up covering some of the more common codes and acronyms that kids use online and which we’ve mentioned on this blog before. If you don’t know what “TWD”, “LMIRL” or “KPC” mean, it’s well worth checking out that link.

The Most Popular Apps
You’ve probably heard of many of the more popular applications that children use on their smartphones, but do you know what they do? We’ll write about more apps in the next part of this series, but for today, here’s a quick run down of five very popular applications:

Snapchat

snapchat

This app is all about sending pictures to your friends. It’s initial unique feature was that images would be only viewable for a short period of time by the person that received the picture, before being deleted. Many people realised and commented in various press articles that this would be great for sending possibly inappropriate pictures or sexting. However, it did not take long for kids to also realise that they could just capture a screen shot, and keep the image.

If your child is a Snapchat user, you should visit the Parents and Teachers section of the Snapchat Safety Center to learn more about the app.

Instagram

instagram

Another picture sharing app. The key aspect of Instagram is that once a picture has been taken using the camera on the phone, you apply a filter to change or improve the appearance of the image. Then you share your photo. In addition to being viewable to all other Instagram users – unless using the private share option – it is easy to upload the photo to a number of social media services such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

As well as having an app, Instagram can be accessed on their web site: https://www.instagram.com

There is also a useful Instagram FAQ on their website.

WhatsApp Messenger

whatsapp

WhatsApp Messenger is probably the most well known messenger app, who’s initial popularity was gained by being one of the first widely adopted apps that allowed for messages to be exchanged without using SMS. This was back in the days when cellphone plans generally did not include large numbers of, or unlimited, SMS messages, and so it was usually less costly to make use of mobile data and WiFi for messaging. In addition, rather than having a user name and password, a WhatsApp account is based on the user’s phone number, and so was very easy to use.

It now can be used to send images, videos and make voice calls, and it’s also possible to use a web browser to send and receive messages.

Recently, WhatsApp announced that all communications will be encrypted, provided that all parties are using the latest version of WhatsApp. For more information, see the WhatsApp FAQ.

Kik

kik

Kik is another highly popular messaging app, that does not use SMS. Unlike WhatsApp, phone numbers are not used to identify the account, and each user picks a username.

According to Kik’s website, about 40% of USA teens use Kik. We can believe that, as based on our own analysis of anonymous app usage data on the MMGuardian system, it appears to be the most popular app for kids at the moment.

If you have questions about aspects of Kik privacy, safety or just how it works, check out the Kik Help Center.

Messenger

messenger

We’re referring here to the Facebook Messenger app, and not the others with the same name that are available from other companies and developers!

In common with the other popular messaging apps, this app uses mobile data or WiFi, and not SMS, for sharing messages. And it can also be used for sharing photos and videos or making voice calls.

Messenger can be used to communicate with a user’s Facebook friends, but it is also easy to add new contacts, based on the contact’s phone number.

Note that the Facebook Messenger app is a different one to the “main” Facebook app, and there is a messenger web site: https://www.messenger.com

Concluding Thoughts
The above apps are just a small selection of the many ways that a child can interact with others online, and usually these days, right from the phone in their pocket.

When a child is young or at a time of life when facing particular issues, it may well be appropriate to prevent use of various social media sites and applications. Over time however, the best outcomes for most children will likely be achieved by establishing an ongoing dialog and helping them build up their own values and self-imposed rules.

There are many organizations that provide helpful advice about online safety and parenting (we’ll do a round up for a future blog post), and it is also possible that your kid’s school has access to these resources or runs a relevant program.

For now, if you are looking for somewhere to start, here is a link to the Protect Kids Online section of the OnGuardOnline.gov site: Protect Kids Online.