A large number of tweens and teens have smartphones and the number of new apps available is staggering.
Some kids have moved on from Facebook, but keeping up with the latest apps that are a cause for parental worry can be challenging, to say the least.
“It is important for parents to be aware of anything that engages their kids, this includes any type of mass media, social media and popular apps,” says Denise Lisi DeRosa, Good Digital Parenting program manager at the Family Online Safety Institute.
“Apps are tools, so usually, they’re not bad in and of themselves (of course, there are exceptions), but they can be used to do a lot of harm,” says Melissa Maypole, head of corporate social responsibility at Qustodio, a parental control software developer.
Here’s a review of apps that parents should be on the look out for and discuss with their kids.
Whisper (free): Whisper is a free app that encourages users to share secrets and post pictures anonymously. Several arrests have been made around the country of adults who used Whisper to contact minors for sex. It has also been used in numerous cyber-bullying incidents.
Tinder (free): Tinder is an online dating app that in some circles is known as the one-night-stand finder. The app shows photos of people nearby, and viewers mark each photo with a green heart or red X. If two users mark one another’s photos with green hearts,the app reveals their locations. Also keep an eye out forMeowChat, another app that matches people with nearby users. MeowChat is new but quickly growing in popularity.
Omegle ($0.99): The tagline of this app is “Talk to strangers!” That alone can raise some red flags. It randomly selects people who can interact anonymously, either by text only, which is known as “spy mode,” or with video. Common Sense Media notes that chats on Omegle are “filled with explicit sexual content, lewd language and references to drugs, alcohol and violence.”
Ask.fm (free): Ask.fm is known as being notoriously bad, due in large part to the multiple teen suicides that have been associated with the use of the app. “As a parent, I find the whole premise of the app—that is, posing ‘anonymous’ questions to strangers—disturbing and wouldn’t feel comfortable knowing my children were using it,” Maypole says.
Erodr (free): Erodr is a social networking app that allows users to post content anonymously and reveals users’ locations. The App Store specifically states that Erodr is “for college students only” and requires a .edu email account, but that has not prevented teens from using it.
DOWN Dating (free): Down is a dating app that bills itself as “the secret way to get down with friends and more.” It has options for users interested in just hooking up and a different level for those interested in actually dating. The fact that it is sold by a company named Bang With Friends, Inc. tells parents a lot.
Kik (free): Kik is an instant messaging app that recently made news when a user blackmailed a 12-year-old girl for naked pictures just hours after the girl downloaded the app. It was not an isolated incident on Kik, which is also known for sexting. Sexual predators have been known to use Kik to find and contact victims.
Yik Yak (free): This is a Twitter-like app that lets users post anonymous comments to people in a 5- or 10-mile radius. It has been used to bully and also to make school bomb threats. Several Chicagoland middle schools and high schools warned parents about this app in the spring, and Barry Rogers, principal at Lake Forest High School, recommended parents delete the app from their children’s devices.
There are always going to be new apps and being aware of the dangerous kinds of apps can help parents. “I think any app that gives users the impression that their activity is anonymous is a potentially dangerous one for young users,” Maypole says.
DeRosa singles out dating apps as meriting parental concern. They “are not appropriate for high school-aged kids and should be left to those who are mature enough to use social media to meet new people,” DeRosa says.
In addition to knowing about these apps, parents should also spend time learning how they work and using them. “You don’t need to be an expert, but you should talk to your kids about what is important to them and why,” DeRosa says. “It can’t hurt for a parent to try them out as well.”
Note: Most of these apps are free and rated 17+, but as long as your child checks the box indicating he or she is over 17, the app will download.