Smartphones and Mobile Apps

Smartphones and Mobile Apps

Keeping up with teens and the changes in social media requires constant effort. We’ve listed many commonly used mobile apps and social media sites below, but new apps are constantly being developed. More teens use mobile apps and their smartphones to go online, than computers.

According to a recent PEW Research Center report, 71% of teenagers ages 13 to 17 still use Facebook. However, another report on teens in the Atlanta Georgia area, found almost no teens using Facebook. Social media trends change rapidly and we strongly recommend that parents conduct their own frequent research. A simple Internet search of “teens and social media” will return several articles and research reports that can help parents stay current. Parents are encouraged to spot check their child’s Internet browser’s history settings which may reveal what sites they visit.

Recent “sexting” scandals on middle and high school campuses, nationally, highlight the importance of maintaining open lines of communication with teens. In these particular incidents 50 to 60% of the high school students were involved in sending nude photographs of themselves using mobile apps. Cyber bullying, hate groups, pornographic websites, chat rooms and “dating apps” are just a few of the many reasons parents should actively supervise their children’s use of media.

Here are just a few of the statistics from the National Crime Prevention Center, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the University of New Hampshire Youth Internet Safety Survey and the Pew Research Center:

  • 93% of teens go online at least weekly.
  • There are over 4.2 million pornographic websites.
  • 70% of all teens have accidentally encountered porn during an Internet search
  • The single largest consumer group of Internet porn is children, ages 12 to 17.
  • 69% of teens regularly receive online communications from strangers and do not tell a parent or guardian.
  • 96% of teens use social networking sites and apps.
  • 71% of teens use more than one social networking site or app.

Popular mobile apps (and websites) with teens include:

Instagram (AKA “Selfie Central”): Allows photo and video sharing. Users can change the way photos look with the app’s filters.

Snapchat: Also sends photos and videos. The sender can place a time limit on how long the video or photo is viewed (1 to 10 seconds). However, a simple ‘screen shot’ saves the photograph. The app SnapHack is also available for download. SnapHack allows the user “hack” the Snapchat application and save any photo or video sent. Snapchat is currently the number 1 “sexting” app on the market.

Ask.FM: A social networking site used almost exclusively by teens and pre-teens. It is a question and answer site that allows users to remain anonymous. Ask.FM allows users to engage in bullying by continually asking inappropriate and derogatory questions.

Whisper: Allows users to superimpose text over pictures. The users remain anonymous. Whisper is increasingly being used for cyber bullying.

KiK Messenger: An extremely fast messaging app that allows teens to exchange videos and pictures. Teens use the app for “sexting” and dating. “KiK buddy” is replacing the term “sex buddy”.

ooVoo: Allows users to video chat with up to 12 friends or strangers at a time.

Periscope: Allows users to “live stream” right from their phone by hitting “record.” Anyone using the app can watch the user live.

WhatsApp: Has migrated from an application to a social networking site. Messages can be sent anonymously.

Blendr, Chatroulette, Down, Formspring.me, Pheed, Streetchat, Tinder, Tumblr, Twitter, UMentioned, Vine, Wanelo, Yik Yak and YouNow also have many of the capabilities of the apps described in more detail on the previous page.

For parents, “hidden” or “secret” apps are another area of concern. One such app looks and acts like a regular calculator. Another application’s icon, “The Vault”, does not even show on the phones “gallery.” These apps allow users to hide videos, pictures, and texts. Other versions allow teens to go online without leaving any browser history. Only when the user types in their password for that specific hidden or secret application, does the app reveal its true purpose.

Caution: Did you know that most smartphones allow users to hide any app on the phone? By doing an Internet search for “hidden apps” or “find hidden apps” parents can learn how to uncover most hidden apps on smartphones.

Unfortunately, there is no technology available that allows for parental controls of mobile apps. If one did exist, developers would simply create a new app to defeat it. Applications can however, be located and removed from the phone. One cellphone company that highlights unlimited parental controls can be found at www.kajeet.com. 

So What Should Parents Do?

Talking with your children about sexting, bullying and connecting with strangers online is the best way to head off potential problems. Remember, cell phones are a ‘thing’ and parents control things. One popular trend helping families reconnect is “7 to 7.” As a general rule, every family member’s cell phone is turned off at 7 PM. Cell phones are turned back on at 7 AM the following morning. At the very least, parents could try turning off every cell phone during the family dinner hour. Use the time away from all media to reconnect with your kids.

It is up to parents to occasionally check their child’s text messages, stored photos and examine the apps their children are using on their smartphones. To do this, parents will need their child’s password/s. When children refuse, simply take their cell phone or turn off the cell phone service until they do. Despite what some children may claim, this is not a violation of a child’s “rights,” but the exercising of the parents’ responsibility to protect their children. It is much easier to prevent children from becoming involved in inappropriate sexual or bullying activity (either as instigator or victim) than to intervene after they have made some serious error in judgment and face embarrassing, even tragic, personal or legal consequences. As we stated earlier, trust has nothing to do with supervision.

Children occasionally show up with a second cell phone. In most cases the phone belongs to a friend. In more dangerous situations, the phone was given to the child by an adult. Many sex traffickers provide cell phones to their victims. Anytime an adult provides a child with a cell phone, the phone should be taken from the child. We recommend parents call the police to investigate.

In Summary:

  1. Talk with your children about their Internet, computer and cell phone use. Encourage your children to protect their reputation.
  2. ACTIVELY supervise all of your child’s media: music, video games, apps, etc.
  3. Learn instant messaging slang terms. (Go to: http://www.netlingo.com/ or http://www.urbandictionary.com)
  4. Learn all you can about your child’s smartphone’s technology. Are there any hidden or secret apps? Apps that allow users to remain anonymous or encourage contact with strangers should be located and removed from a child’s smartphone or tablet.
  5. Have the passwords to cell phones, tablets and the social networking sites your child uses. If your child refuses to provide them, withhold the device/s until your child gives you all passwords. Verify that they work, and spot-check these from time to time.

Make cell phones and texting off limits during meals and at other family times.  Parents must model this themselves.