Teenagers using their smartphones simultaneously.

Watch Out! There’s an App For That…

By Sarah Herndon, October 2018

The world of social media apps and kids is ever-changing. It’s almost guaranteed that something unpleasant will happen to your child via their smartphone at some time. Stay on top of it.

When Pam Breaux handed her 13-year-old daughter, Addie, her first cell phone, she never envisioned that she was giving her something that could be harmful. Addie was one of the last of her friends to receive a phone, and Pam made sure to keep track of all of her passcodes.

Occasionally, she would pick up Addie’s phone to look at any recent activity and one time recently happened to click on an instant messaging app called Kik. Pam was appalled at what popped up– a photo of her daughter’s arm with recent cut marks, sent to someone that Pam did not know. When questioned, Addie admitted to being involved in a conversation with her friend and a 16-year-old boy whom her friend wished to date.

New to this enticing domain of social networking, Addie was easily persuaded by the boy to cut herself. “It’s a lot of power- the capability to contact the whole world for a 13-year old,” says Pam, who lives in the Lakeview.

Intruder alert

Like most parents, Pam is not oblivious to the dangers of the Internet for younger kids, who are often impulsive and still immature. However, it’s hard for parents to know the ins and outs of every app, especially when many boast to be a harmless messaging platform. Even having your child’s passcodes to monitor their accounts only goes so far as many have multiple usernames which allow them to keep private conversation threads or photos from their parents.

There are even apps created to hide photos and videos on a phone. Vaulty is a popular one that is password protected and will take a picture of anyone trying to take a peek. Similar apps even pose as an innocuous calculator.

Kik, Snapchat and WhatsApp are just a few of the popular messaging apps trending in 2018. Young kids are given a false sense of security when they are communicating in these platforms, making it easier for them to send sexually explicit photos and messages.

Snapchat enables the user to send an image or a video to someone for a specific amount of time before it disappears.  Pam agrees that these types of apps can encourage kids to send inappropriate content that would not have been sent through traditional texting. “There is a flirtatious quality to knowing that it will delete that makes one do harmful things,” she says.

Recent statistics show that one in five teenagers have received unwelcome sexual solicitation over the Internet. The app Yubo– formerly Yellow- advertises itself innocently as a way to make new friends. Yet, Yubo allows teens to connect with strangers who are geographically close to them, which can lead to an in-person meeting.

There have been changes made to make the app safer, but fake profiles are still prevalent within many of these social messaging platforms. While parents should remain watchful for sexual predators, cyberbullying is also on the rise. An app called Ask.fm allows users to converse in a ‘question and answer’ format and it has been used for bullying and further linked to suicides.

Protecting your child

It seems like a daunting task, to protect kids from the perils of social media when it seems to be beckoning from every corner. There are a few sites that parents can use so that they feel more in control of their kid’s screen time.

PureSight is a child safety website that can help to monitor chats and social media apps. There is a fee associated with their services. Common Sense Media is a free website that can help guide parents away from technology that is age inappropriate and gives suggestions for better alternatives.

In retrospect, Pam wishes that she had been more vigilant with her daughter. She has now disabled the camera on Addie’s phone, and she needs to be in their family room when she is on any type of device.

Parents should also find out who their child chats with, through which platforms (SMS texting or an app) and educate them about the dangers of online predators. Keeping kids away from social media seems unrealistic in this age of technology; however, staying on top of the latest apps and setting boundaries can keep both parents and kids empowered.

Sarah Herndon is a local New Orleanian and freelance writer. She writes regularly for Nola Family magazine. Read Sarah’s article “Two extraordinary New Orleans athletes win at Special Olympics

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