Snapchat...Yik Yak...Whisper...Kik. Do these apps mean anything to you? Even if they mean little to you, they probably resonate with your kids. And parents are catching on; the recent murder of Nicole Lovell, a 13-year-old girl who developed a relationship with a college student on the messaging app Kik, has led more parents to scrutinize their kids’ social media use.
According to 1st Sgt. D.T. Diggs of the Stafford County Sheriff’s Juvenile Services Unit, open communication about Internet and smartphone use is a crucial component of keeping your children safe. Rules and expectations need to be set early and enforced. Some parents may not want to check their child’s phone, lest they be accused of “spying.” But if your child knows upfront that mom or dad is going to have access to their device, this shouldn’t be an issue. However, Diggs cautions against threatening to take away or disable your child’s device if they goof. This may lead them to take extensive measures to hide any slipups, even innocent ones.
Avoiding Inappropriate Phone & Computer Use
Diggs also addressed the difficult topic of sexting. Many parents are reluctant to talk about this with their children. Let’s be honest, it’s awkward to even think about. He stresses that it is better that they hear from you about what is safe/unsafe and appropriate/inappropriate rather than relying only on peers for advice. He cautioned that sending one sext can lead to a teen being blackmailed by the recipient, and a demand for more photographs. Furthermore, according to Mobile Media Guard, “The Commonwealth of Virginia could prosecute individuals, regardless of age, who are caught creating, distributing, or possessing sexually explicit images of a minor. Each action is independent of each other and can result in up to three separate felony charges.”
Even the youngest students are using the Internet for school, including homework. Computers and tablets should be confined to public areas of the home, and parents should be aware of what their children are doing online. Not only are there many websites you don’t want your first grader to see, there are also predators who will seek out children via games on the Internet.
Discuss Apps Together
One final bit of advice from Diggs: if your teen passionately wants a new app, consider their request. It might be better to allow your child access to an app that you don’t entirely approve of, with clear communication about how it is to be used, than to forbid it outright. Teens are web-savvy, often more so than their parents. If there is one way to ensure they go behind your back, it is to forbid them access to something that “everyone else” is using.
APPS TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Snapchat: Lets users share images or video clips, but they can only be viewed for a matter of seconds. This makes it all but impossible for parents to monitor. Recipients, however, can take a screen shot of an image, so users need to use caution when sharing images.
Yik Yak: A smartphone app that allows people pseudo-anonymously to create and view discussion threads within a 5-mile radius.
Kik: An instant messenger app. It has been criticized for allegedly weak parental controls and the option for anonymous accounts
Whisper: A smartphone app, which allows users to send and receive messages anonymously. Users post messages displayed as text superimposed over an image, similar to greeting cards.