Beyond Facebook: Apps Your Teen Is Using Now and What to Know About Them
The lowdown on Snapchat, Yik Yak, WhatsApp and the social media sites teens like
The digital age has not only transformed the way teens communicate with each other, it is forcing parents to learn new ways to communicate with their teens.
Even for the most diligent and tech savvy parents, knowing the latest cool or trendy app is nearly impossible, says Mark J. Kline, Psy.D, who has counseled many teens and families on addictive video game and online behavior.
“If you’re playing the game of trying to catch up with your kids and knowing what they’re using all the time — it’s a game we’re going to lose,” says Kline, a clinical psychologist and clinical director of the Human Relations Service in Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Different things come into vogue and it changes very, very fast. We’ll almost never know what the current rage is.”
Most parents try to keep up. About 60 percent of parents say they check their teen’s profile on social media sites and 83 percent of parents say they are “Facebook friends” with their son or daughter, according to a recent study by Pew Research Center.
But with 92 percent of teens reporting daily online activity and 24 percent of them saying they’re online “almost constantly” the center found, it can be a losing battle. Many teens are extremely savvy and 58 percent of them report they’ve blocked their parents from seeing certain content on their Facebook page.
So are the apps and social media websites our teens frequent the proverbial bad street corner of our time? Kline says that depends on your child and the level of communication you have.
New apps and sites your teen is likely using
Teens primarily use mainstream social media channels to communicate. The Pew study found, among teens 13 to 17 years old, 71 percent are on Facebook, 52 percent are on Instagram, 41 percent use Snapchat and 1 in 3 of them use Google+ and Twitter.
Some apps and sites are difficult or almost impossible for parents to monitor effectively because they do not use the phone’s traditional texting tools. Services like Kik Messenger, ooVoo, and WhatsApp Messenger allow teens to text or video chat with friends over a Wi-Fi or cellular network connection. Some apps today easily fool watchful parents by automatically deleting messages once they’re read. Snapchat allows messages to be sent and then deleted after a set amount of time (usually 10 seconds), which is why some teens use it to send revealing photos, according to Common Sense Media.
Related: 7 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online
Other services allow anonymous posting and messaging, which can lead to cyberbullying and the spreading of false rumors. Yik Yak, a free social-networking app, allows users to create and view posts (called “Yaks”). Posts are gathered within a 10-mile radius of the device. The company’s legal disclaimer admits the company does not ask for posters’ names, e-mail addresses, or other identifiable information outside of an IP address or GPS coordinates.
Omegle, which allows you to chat with random strangers, poses an even greater safety issue. Omegle states the app is not for children under 13 and teens under 18 should use only with a parent’s permission.
While it’s easy to vilify some of these apps, Kline notes, remember that apps and social media have evolved into the primary means of communications for most teens and they have positive benefits, too. For instance, most kids rely on their apps to make social plans and even collaborate with friends while doing homework.
What parents can do
Kline says children shouldn’t be using the device late at night to communicate (it's best to keep the device out of the bedroom altogether). If sleep, grades or their mood begins to suffer, it’s most likely a warning sign of something bad happening or addictive behavior setting in.
“Parents ought to know what their kids are doing and what’s on their phone or device,” he says. “Remember, it’s not just a phone, it’s a computer that they have unfettered access to the Internet with.”
Kline recommends parents show teens how to use the device responsibly.
“You want to participate in your kid’s social media use so you get a sense of how they’re using it,” he says. “You also shouldn’t be paranoid if your kids make a mistake — because they will make them — but you want to be able to have good communication and talk to them about it. Having good communication and knowing your kids are the two most important things to remember.”