Social Media, Apps and your Tween

tree of multimedia

child watching screenTechnology has been a wonderful addition to our world, with many great benefits. Those benefits have come bundled with dangers. In this series, I’ve outlined the benefits and dangers of several social media apps. I would like to encourage children to be safe in their use of technology.

When we use technology at school, we focus on educational uses, and give a lot of guidance and support to children. When they are using technology independently, it’s generally for short periods, and in close proximity to an adult. We hope that this document will highlight possible issues, and help parents and families implement strategies and practices to keep children safe when using technology.

The Benefits of Technology Use

Technology has brought some wonderful features that we all appreciate. We can keep in touch with family through Skype and Whatsapp, find childhood friends and catch up with them on Facebook, curate resources and share them with each other on Pinterest, create videos and share them on YouTube, keep in touch with family and friends through email, share photos on Instagram, create weblogs in Tumblr, and the list goes on.

For the tools that I’ve mentioned, there are thousands more with similar or extended functionality. As humans, we love to share, and we love to connect, both of which we can now do in many ways online. We understand that mobile devices, and computer technology have revolutionized communication, creation, and curation. This makes critical thinking extremely important.

The Dangers of Technology Use

When using new technology (computers, tablets, smart devices, etc.), we have to be careful to keep ourselves and other people safe. It is difficult to figure out how to do that, as the settings and options differ from app to app. New technology is confusing to many of us; we are not natives in that landscape.

We understand that there are dangers, but we have trouble pinpointing the exact dangers, and knowing how to keep ourselves and others safe. It is difficult because terms of use and privacy policies are long and difficult to understand, and we don’t use many of the tools that children use. We inhabit different spaces, and even when we inhabit the same space, we use the tools in very different ways.

Some of the online tools that are most popular with our children are, Instagram, Whatsapp, Skype, YouTube, and Snapchat. All these tools have great features, but what about the dangers?

Dangers comes from inappropriate content, contact, or conduct online. Are you aware of the attractions of each tool that your child uses, its benefits, and its dangers?

This list is made up of the most popular tools with children (under 13) at my school. Explore each of the tools that you or your children are interested in, from the list below.

General Advice for Making Online Use Safer

There are a variety of choices available to families around technology use. It is important for every family to think through the issues, and decide on the appropriate standards and agreements to guide the use of technology. Every family’s agreement and practices will be different, because families have their own individual dynamics and values. Here are some suggestions to make the use of technology, particularly the Internet, safer for children. The first five tips are important for all families. For the other tips, select the ones that are relevant to and appropriate for your family.

  • Know that it is impossible to make social media 100% safe.
  • Explore available privacy settings for online accounts and turn them on as appropriate.
  • Be aware of what your child is using and doing online, and offer support and guidance to help them make responsible choices. This could provide great opportunities for exploring technology together, and for conversations.
  • Create a set of agreements and standards for your family around the use of technology, social media, and the Internet.
  • Regularly review your family’s agreement, and revise as appropriate to the development of the child and the family’s context.
  • Agree on some simple responses to inappropriate content online, as appropriate for the age of your child, for example, escape out and tell an adult.
  • Have rules/agreements about where your child can use their device.
  • If you decide to allow your child to use social media apps that require users to be at least 13 years old, create a family account that your child can use, and actively manage the account.
  • Agree with your child on what apps they are allowed to use, and a process for discussing/selecting new apps that they may use.
  • Require that your child have permission before installing any apps, even free ones.
  • Make sure that you learn about an app before you give permission for your child to install it.
  • Turn on Parental Controls in iOS or Google Play.
  • Listen to your child’s point of view, and discuss the reasons for your decisions.
  • Charge devices in public/common areas overnight.
  • Do not give a smart, portable device to a child who is not up to the responsibility. For example, if your child needs lots of help being a good self-manager in the physical world, they will be greatly challenged to make safe and responsible choices online.
  • It is important to agree on what settings your child is allowed to independently change in social media, and other communication apps.
  • Safety first. Emphasize this with your child and encourage them to share challenges they encounter with technology, how they solve them, and what they need help with. Be calm, and don’t overreact in these situations.

Read previous posts in this series

Social Media Highlight: Snapchat

snapchat header

snapchat headerSnapchat Overview

Snapchat is a multimedia messaging app most popular with millenials and younger. While the site stared with individual users only, it has evolved to include companies and personalities. Users create an account, and follow other users. The unique feature of the app is that snaps are ephemeral in the app, of lengths up to 10s. Chat history is also deleted by default, and has to be saved if users want later access. Even the creator won’t be able to see the snaps in the future if they don’t save them to Memories. From memories, users can export snaps to their camera role, or move them to a My Eyes Only folder, where they are protected by a passcode. Snaps are photos or videos up to 10s in length. Each snap can have up to three geofilters added. In selfie mode, users can activate facial lenses that add features to the image, or modify the voice in a video. It is also possible to add captions and emoji to snaps. Once a snap is completed, the user can send it to a person, a group of people, or to Snapchat Stories. Snapchat Stories are like a newsfeed, where each of the snaps is viewable for 24 hours after it is added. Permissions for who can see the story is set in Settings. You can access snaps sent to you in Chat. In Stories, you can see all the stories of friends and people that you follow. You can also access Snapchat Discover to see other highlighted public stories, including those by external publishers. Some of these stories include articles as well.

Snapchat works on Android and iOS. The terms of use require users to be at least 13 years old to create an account. The app is rated 12+ in the iTunes app store, and Parental Guidance in the Google Play store.

Why Kids Like Snapchat

Snapchat’s is attractive to users because snaps self-destruct. This feels safer than uploading multimedia to spaces where they become part of the kid’s digital footprint. Geofilters and facial lenses make it fun to send snaps, and children feel like they can be more natural in that environment. Also, Snapchat is seen as an environment for the younger crowd, a place where there are few parents, with 85% of the users between 13 and 35.

Dangers of Snapchat

There is little danger of your child coming across unsafe digital content from people that they do not follow while using Snapchat. There are some publishers on Snapchat, and the content may be inappropriate for young children, but is unlikely to be porn. The danger of Snapchat is in how children use it, particularly in what they send and receive.

  • Children may share private information, or inappropriate snaps in Stories.
  • Kids feel safe using Snapchat because the multimedia disappears. They should know that it is possible for other people to capture the image or video before it disappears.
  • Although messages self-destruct, there are apps that let users replay or make copies of snaps, and screenshots are also possible.
  • Users can make calls, or video calls from the app.
  • Chat history is easy to delete.
  • The featured section shows stories from anyone, chosen by the app’s algorithm, and may have content that’s inappropriate for children.
  • Snap streaks may encourage users to be obsessed with the app.
  • Snapchat gets a bad rap for sexting.
  • Snapchat collects and uses your location for geofilters and other features.
  • Ads may feature content that is inappropriate for children.

Make Snapchat Safer

There are a number of possible settings in Snapchat to make it safer. Work with your child to explore those settings and enable them.

Read previous posts in this series

Social Media Highlight: Skype

Skype Overview

Skype is a free messaging, and video and voice calling app that lets you send images, video, text, audio, or documents. Communication from Skype to Skype users is free; SMS and calls to phones are premium features that require one time payment or a subscription plan. Users can make groups, which allow messaging, and audio calls for up to 25 people. The maximum number of users for video calls depends on the platform.

Skype works on Windows, Mac desktops and Linux desktops, Windows Phone, Android and iOS, and is owned by Microsoft. Users must sign in to Skype with a Skype account, which is a Microsoft account. To create an account, users under the age of majority need parental consent. It’s not clear to me whether or not children under 13 are allowed to sign up for the service according to the terms of use. I find the statement about age on the same page to be oblique: “Skype’s websites and software are not intended for or designed to attract users under the age of 13.”

Why Kids Like Skype

Skype is similar to WhatsApp but works on many more platforms. It works just as well, if not better, on a laptop as on a tablet or smart phone. It’s easy to use Skype, and convenient to have it on in the background while working on the laptop. Some kids use if for discussing homework and getting help from peers. Kids also like to use Skype to hang out with each other,

Dangers of Skype

There are few dangers of children accidentally stumbling across inappropriate content in the app, although they may get message and contact requests from strangers, particularly if their profile is publicly searchable. Possible dangers in using WhatsApp include:

  • Conversations that start in games or in social media my move to Skype.
  • Predators who groom children in social media apps, usually move to messaging tools like Skype when they have built trust.
  • It’s easy for strangers to find and contact you if you keep discoverability on.
  • Interested users can use Skype to explore sexting.
  • It’s easy for users to share locations with other users.
  • Teens may use the messaging app to bully each other or to be mean, such as excluding a peer from a Skype group.
  • There are built-in, targeted advertisements in the free version of Skype.

Make Skype Safer

Skype has some limited built in features to make it safer for kids to use. There are also settings that parents and children can work to verify, to maximize security and privacy.

  • Create and manage the Skype account for your young child. Also, learn about Skype features and how to use Skype.
  • Change privacy settings so only contacts can see the picture, turn off automatically add friends, and turn off streaming media.
  • Turn off discoverability so that people don’t find you in search, nor in suggestions.
  • Modify profile on a desktop computer to determine who can see your profile.
  • Block or delete users, as needed, or report inappropriate messaging.
  • Only allow calls and messages from contacts.
  • Disallow Microsoft targeted ads.
  • Talk about sexting with children, and help them understand the dangers.
  • Monitor use and talk to your child openly about their use of Skype.
  • Speak to your child about how grooming, and other online dangers, and keep the lines of communication open. Ask them to let you know about interactions with friends who they haven’t met offline.
  • Turn off location access.
  • To learn more about this topic, see reviews from Parent ZoneCommon Sense Media, and NSPCC NetAware.

Read previous posts in this series

Social Media Highlight: YouTube

YouTube guideYouTube Overview

YouTube is the premier video sharing website in the world, and it is owned by Google. The sites’ users are both individuals and companies. YouTubers (people who use YouTube) can watch videos, upload videos, share videos, share gifs of videos, create channels and playlists, subscribe to channels, and comment on videos. There are built-in tools for doing quick edits to videos, and for adding music. Users can also live stream video, and share the saved video on YouTube. YouTube Red is a paid version of YouTube, only available in a few countries.

YouTube works on the web, and has dedicated apps for Google Play, iOS, smart TVs, game consoles, and media streaming devices. Users must be at least 13 years old to join YouTube. The Google Play app is rated Parental Guidance and the iOS app is rated 17+.

Why Kids Like YouTube

There are lots of videos on YouTube, a mix of content relevant to and interesting to audiences of all ages. It’s easy to search and find interesting content to satisfy our curiosity. The video platform is appealing to children and other users.

Dangers of YouTube

Some content on YouTube is age-rated and can only be accessed with age verification, but since the environment is controlled by users, including moderation, it is not inherently safe for use by children. Dangers to consider include:

  • Public videos can be seen by anyone.
  • Comments can be mean and foul.
  • Private messages can be sent and received through named channels.
  • A friend could upload a video of your child.
  • There is a lot of inappropriate, and adult content on YouTube. Through innocuous search queries, students can encounter this content. Related videos, and what to watch next also provide opportunities for children to access inappropriate content.
  • YouTube Contacts can be set up and used for private video sharing and chatting in the YouTube app. Group chatting is also available on Android.

Make YouTube Safer

To make YouTube safer, there are a number of settings possible. A better option is to install YouTube Kids. Even that option is not 100% safe, with many reports from parents that YouTube’s automatic filters are not catching some inappropriate content.

  • Install YouTube Kids instead of YouTube.
  • Disable comments on public videos, and channels.
  • Enable restricted mode to screen out inappropriate content.
  • Use filters and moderation to manage comments.
  • Turn off channel recommendation.
  • Turn on privacy settings for subscriptions, likes and saved playlists.
  • Request removal of videos of your child. Work with your child, so that they may contact their friend with the request.
  • Have your child show you any videos that they make before uploading them to YouTube.
  • Use unlisted for uploaded videos.
  • If your child wants a channel for uploads, and they have their own account, become a manager.
  • Subscribe to your child’s channel if they have their own account.
  • Report harassment and cyberbullying.
  • Use YouTube with your child, and enjoy watching some of their favorite videos together (especially for younger children).
  • Actively monitor how your child uses YouTube, and discuss it with them (for older children).
  • To learn more about this topic, see reviews and instructions from Parent InfoProtect Your EyesCommon Sense Media, and NSPCC NetAware, and YouTube’s Help.

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Social Media Highlight – Whatsapp

WhatsApp Logo

WhatsApp LogoWhatsApp Overview

WhatsApp was launched in 2010. It is an ad-free, encrypted, free messaging, and video and voice calling app that lets you send images, video, text, audio, or documents (up to 100 MB). In addition to person to person communication, WhatsApp allows chat groups of up to 256 users. A recent addition to WhatsApp is the ability to create WhatsApp Status, which lets you share photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users must set up WhatsApp using a valid phone number for account confirmation.

WhatsApp works on  AndroidiPhoneMac or Windows PC, Blackberry, Nokia, or Windows Phone. It can also be accessed on the web, but has to be connected to your smart phone account through the WhatsApp settings. Users must be at least 13 years old to create an account. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, since 2014.

Why Kids Like WhatsApp

WhatsApp is more attractive to kids than other instant messaging apps because it only needs a phone number to set up, and is works on a wide variety of platforms. Kids may also like the fact that it’s popular with younger people. WhatsApp allows groups, and participants can share all sorts of files with each other very easily.

Dangers of WhatsApp

WhatsApp is not a social networking app, but rather a messaging app. With the recent addition of Status, WhatsApp is broadening its reach, and may be considered social media. There are few dangers of children accidentally stumbling across inappropriate content in the app. Possible dangers in using WhatsApp include:

  • There are public groups in WhatsApp on a variety of topics, including adult topics and self-harm. These groups cannot be found in the app, and it is unlikely that children will develop these behaviors from using WhatsApp.
  • It’s easy for users to share locations with other users.
  • Anyone in the same group as a users can see the user’s profile.
  • Teens can choose to limit access to WhatApp Status to particular contacts, and could hide them from parents that way.
  • Predators who groom children in social media apps, usually move to messaging tools like WhatsApp when they have built trust.
  • Conversations can be easily deleted.
  • Teens may use the messaging app to bully each other or to be mean, such as excluding a peer from a WhatsApp group.
  • Interested users can use WhatsApp for sexting.

Making WhatsApp Safer

There are few WhatsApp settings that can be modified to make WhatsApp safer. The main settings to explore and change concern privacy.

  • Create an account, and let your child use your account.
  • Learn how to use WhatsApp, including Status, to help your child navigate it.
  • Change the profile privacy settings to set who can see the profile photo, about, status, and last access.
  • Change media auto-download settings so audio and video don’t auto-download.
  • Show your teen how to block or delete users, or report inappropriate messaging.
  • Monitor use and talk to your child openly about their use of WhatsApp.
  • Speak to your child about how grooming, and other online dangers, and keep the lines of communication open. Ask them to let you know about interactions with friends who they haven’t met offline.
  • Agree with your child about how they can use Status.
  • Talk about sexting with children, and help them understand the dangers.
  • Turn off location settings.
  • To learn more about this topic, see reviews from Protect Young EyesParent Info, Common Sense Media, and NSPCC NetAware.

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