What To Look Out For on Social Media Apps

Every few months or so, there seems to be a new “hot’ app. While kids are obsessing over the latest app, their parents and caregivers are just hearing about the last one. It can be frustrating and time consuming to try to keep up with this ever-changing technology.

The good news is that most- yes, most- teens are using these apps safely and appropriately, so there usually isn’t much cause for major parent freak-outs. But, there a red flags to look out for on social media sites. If you know what to look out for and how to deal with the issue, most social media apps should be considered “safe” for your teens. Our goal is to help them avoid social media downfalls like drama, over sharing, cyberbullying and hate speech.

The following are a list of common “red flags” that come up with some social media apps. But, just because an app has these features doesn’t mean a teen shouldn’t use the app or shouldn’t be trusted to navigate it safely. They can often simply disable that feature and go about using the app in a respectful, responsible way.

Here’s what to look out for on your teen’s newest social media app:

1. Age-inappropriate content. Some examples: Ask.fm, Tumblr, Vine
Friends can share explicit stuff via messaging (for example, sexting), but the bigger concern is whether an app features a lot of user-generated content that isn’t appropriate to your kid’s age. Your teen may not even need to follow users who are posting explicit stuff to come across it.

The Fix:  Use the app yourself and get a sense of what comes up in an average feed. Then try searching for content you’re concerned about and see how easy it is to find. Check the terms of use to see what the app allows and whether users can flag violators.

2. Public default settings. Some examples: InstagramTwitterVineAsk.fm

Many apps allow a user to have a public or private profile, only shared with friends; however, some apps are public by default, which means that a kid’s name, picture, and posts are available to everyone.

The Fix: As soon as you download the app, go into the settings to check the defaults. If a kid is using the same program on a browser, check there, too.

3. Location tracking and sharing. Some examples: Twitter SnapchatInstagramMessenger

Wherever you go, there you are — and your social media apps know it. Though you may only indicate a city or neighborhood in a profile, allowing location identification often means that you’re tracked within a city block, and your posts may include your location.

The Fix: Turn OFF location settings on the phone AND in the app; check to see whether previous posts include location information, and delete it.

4. Real-time video streamingSome examples: YouNowPeriscopeMeerkat

Live streaming is just that — live — so it’s very easy to share something you didn’t mean to. Kids may use these apps in private (such as in their bedrooms) and inadvertently share personal information without knowing exactly who is watching. Though they may seem temporary, embarrassing or mean moments are easily captured and shared later.

The Fix: Talk to your kids about why they want to share video of themselves and what they should and shouldn’t share. Talk about positive, constructive uses of video sharing, such as creating shorts using editing programs or creating an interest-based channel to funnel your teen’s creativity.

5. “Temporary” pictures and videos. 
Some examples: SnapchatPeriscopeYouNow

Nothing shared between devices is truly temporary, even when an app builds its whole marketing around it. Compromising pictures and texts get kids in real trouble because they believe what they’re sending is private and will disappear.

The Fix: Let your kids know that nothing they send is truly temporary, and it’s easy for others to share what you’ve sent. Because it’s often hard for kids to really consider consequences, and they might think it won’t happen to them, it might be worth sharing some of the recent cases of kids getting in legal trouble because of “disappearing” pictures.

6. Subpar reporting tools. Some examples: Yik YakSnapchatOmegle

Most apps have a system for reporting abuse or violations of the terms of use — but not all do. The level of moderation also varies widely. Some apps monitor posts or use automated filters to flag content.

The Fix: Read the terms of service to get an idea of what’s allowed and how much posts are moderated, and have your kids read it, too. Make sure they know how to report harassment and block other users when necessary.

7. Anonymity. Some examples: Yik YakWhisperAsk.fmOmegle

Anonymity doesn’t always breed cruelty, but it often does. On anonymous sites, people feel that their comments are consequence-free — and end up hurting others. Also, though kids may feel safe enough to share sensitive or painful things they might not otherwise, they often don’t get the necessary support or help — and may get attacked.

The Fix: Make sure your teen understands the risks involved and that they know how to block and report other users if necessary. Also, if they need connection but it’s hard to talk about a problem (especially with you), give them opportunities to share with other safe, trusted people.

Here at Project B3, we know that social media can be an overwhelming part of parenting. It is so unpredictable and we feel so disconnected to something that is such a big part of our teen’s life. And it seems that we always hear the bad news; the teen that gets bullied to the point of suicide and the girl that gets abducted by the stranger she meets online. And those stories are true and they will continue to happen. So, choose to be a proactive parent. Teach your preteen and teen what is acceptable behavior on social media and what is not. You know who their “real” life friends are and you have every right to know who they are communicating with online and how they are communicating. Talk to your teens. Listen to your teens. And check their devices every so often, but mainly teach them how to use it responsibly so that you don’t have to monitor them. Just like in “real” life.


*some information was found on Common Sense Media.