Just because your teenager can download it doesn’t mean it’s groovy.
The lifecycle for what’s “cool” for teenagers is faster these days than ever—and new social media apps are like fuel to that fire. With a host of new apps cropping up every few months, it’s entirely possible the must-have app of the season has come and gone before you’ve even found it on iTunes.
But just because an app is available for children and teenagers to download doesn’t mean its content is safe or recommended. Keep an eye on what your school-aged kiddos are logging into with this handy, pro/con guide to seven popular social media apps.
Snapchat. This popular messaging service allows users to send texts and images to one another with an attached time limit for viewing. Much like in Mission Impossible, after the time limit has expired, the messages self-destruct. PRO: Our teenage years are embarrassing, and it’s probably best that a lot of what we say to each other digitally isn’t archived. CONS: Not everything really disappears. Recipients can easily capture the messages and save them locally—especially a problem because the app is widely known as an outlet for sexting, or sending explicit photos.
Vine. Users compose and share short, six-second video loops online. Popular “Vine-ers” have millions of followers. PROS: The internet is full of hilarious, creative, and viral vine videos that demonstrate their maker’s craftiness. Teens compose entire skits that fit the six-second limit, and it’s wonderful to see creativity at play. CONS: It doesn’t take long to find inappropriate videos. From nudity to candid drug use, users also have a knack for simply bragging about their own deviant behavior.
Kik Messenger. Kik is another alternative to sending text messages; the app has no limit to message length, meaning it’s a free option for teens who burn through their service provider’s texting limits. PROS: It uses real names as identifiers—which can be problematic but limits anonymous users’ harassment. CONS: The app is ad-heavy, and it frequently encourages users to pester everyone in their address books to sign up.
Oovoo. Much like the iPhone’s popular FaceTime app smashed together with its messenger, Oovoo is a video, voice, and message-based service that allows users to connect with up to 12 people for free. PROS: You can only chat with approved friends—no random strangers showing up on video inappropriately. And, though it might be naïve to think it, the app could be used to facilitate a group study session or for homework help. CONS: Ads dominate the free version of the app, and of course, a group chat can be distracting from getting any real studying completed.
Yik Yak. Twitter’s evil brother. Yik-Yak is an anonymous app that encourages users to post “anything and everything”–and then sorts comments based on where they are geographically. The comments are distributed to the nearest 500 people (or those in a 1.5 mile radius). PROS: Not many to mention. Many schools have banned accessing the app via their wireless networks. CONS: The app is a haven for rumors, online bullying, explicit information, secret-sharing, and inadvertently revealing your physical location for any stranger to see.
Ask.fm. This is the web’s ultimate Q&A site, where users post questions or answer questions asked of them. PROS: Again, not many. CONS: The site has been linked to severe bullying, including a handful of instances of teen suicides in England.
Yo. You might not believe it, but all this app does is send users the text message “Yo.” It then reads it out loud. Yep, that’s it. PROS: It is silly, harmless, and oddly addicting to hear your phone speak the word “Yo.” Nice to know someone’s thinking of you. CONS: Early versions of the app were susceptible to hackers. Later updates seem to have alleviated many of the problems.
Not every new app is harmful or harmless, it’s safe to say, and the best method of ensuring your child’s smart phone device remains safe for him or her to use is through carefully established expectations and good vigilance. Lists like these are likely outdated by the time they’re put into print (so old-school!), and new apps appear everyday in online marketplaces.
Still, keep an eye out for these apps on your kids’ devices, and never hesitate to ask them if they think the service is useful, safe, and appropriate. A well-intentioned inquiry from Mom or Dad might just elicit the best answer. —James Hogan