With new applications and social media sites introduced all the time, it is difficult to stay on top of the potential dangers our children are facing. But this is the reality of raising kids in a digital world. As parents, it is our responsibility to stay educated on what apps are out there and to learn how to keep children safe from online dangers.
To help make it a bit easier, we put together an overview of what your kids may be using to communicate online. We have highlighted five of the most dangerous messaging apps for teens:
This app allows users to send photos, videos, and messages from their mobile device to another Snapchat user. The user sending the photo can determine how long the receiver of their picture or video can see the image until it “self-destructs”. Your teen can also post a story on their account of a photo or video. This story stays visible for 24-hours from the time posted until the expiration.
However—as seen with anything posted on the internet—even if your child “self-destructs” the media they sent, that does not mean it has vanished forever. Users have found ways to bypass the feature by screenshotting and screen-recording what they sent. This means that any intimate photos or messages sent by your child, under the impression it would vanish, can ultimately be captured and possibly used as fuel for cyberbullying.
Many teens are not even aware of the information they are making available to the public. For example, under settings many teens opt into the Snapchat Map, known as “SnapMap”. This feature allows public access to the user’s exact location at all times. In other words, your child’s selection in their privacy settings may allow strangers to see their location, their story postings and give them the ability to directly contact your child.
Law enforcement has put this mobile app on high alert as one the worst and most dangerous for teens. Kik made headlines after a kidnapper contacted his 13-year-old-victim in Virginia through the app.
What makes Kik so dangerous is that it is an anonymous messaging app that does not require a valid phone number or email for account setup — only a username. Your children can exchange photos, videos and messages privately with a total stranger. The messages disappear from the sender’s phone once sent.
Law enforcement officials say, “[Kik] is one of the most common apps used by sex predators. They convince children to submit nude photos of themselves then threaten to send those photos to their parents unless the child sends them other photos.”
Users of Facebook must download the separate Facebook Messenger App if they want to utilize the messaging feature on their mobile device. If your teen uses Facebook on their phone, they most likely also have this app.
Prior to 2015, messages that were sent by people who weren’t your friends were funneled to a separate inbox that “hid” the unsolicited messages from your view. However, since early 2016, messages received by strangers are now sent to a “message requests” inbox. This makes it easier to receive and read messages from people your kids don’t know. A representative at Facebook explains, “Now the only thing you need to talk to virtually anyone in the world is their name.” The Facebook Messenger feature has also made it easier for strangers to send links that can hack you child’s device and/or account.
Also owned by Facebook, WhatsApp has more than 1 million monthly active users as of early 2018. Many teens are not using the app’s texting feature, but are also letting you post status updates, send videos, share locations, and make voice and video calls over the internet. It has been another way for strangers and predators to get in touch with your children.
In recent years, attackers have also created malicious software downloads that masquerade as WhatsApp. Once installed, they can compromise the security on your children’s phones and/or desktops if they access their account on the computer.
Although Twitter is not used solely for messaging, it is important to realize that messaging can be done on the platform. If your child has a “public” account, users they do not know can tweet or like posts and message them.
Just like Twitter, Instagram is not solely used for messaging, but it is starting to take off as a “messenger” app because the stories feature allows viewers to direct message their responses to the story they’ve just viewed. Giving the user an opportunity to create a personal dialogue. Similar to Snapchat, Instagram allows users to send videos, pictures and to post stories that appear on their account for 24 hours. Although these “self-destruct” after opened, you can still screenshot and screen-record.
While both Twitter and Instagram are not traditional messaging apps, it is important for parents to be aware of the messaging components that can be extremely dangerous.
Why parents should be concerned
The reality is most teens will use messaging apps to communicate with their peers. The major concern is that once your teen sets up a profile and starts to actively interact online, it can compromise their safety. Some of these dangers include:
- Unsolicited messages
- Exposure to illegal content
- Sexual Harassment
- Pressure from strangers who send threatening messages
What you can do:
Educate yourself on these dangerous messaging apps and let your kids and students know too. Sit down and have open conversations about the potential risks to their security and safety these apps can pose. Education is key to helping prevent your children from entering dangerous situations online and offline too.