I’m not mincing any words here: How do we stay on top of all the different ways our kids can interact online? I know there are a lot and I have no idea what they are!
Thank you for this question. You are 100% right that our kids are interacting in a lot of different places online! Even though I don’t recommend relying on monitoring as your digital education, even if you ignore me and do this anyway, I’m afraid you may end up missing what’s important—which is how your kids are interacting online and how this is affecting them.
Kids interact in comments, private or direct messages, videos or Stories, texts with their phone’s texting feature, and in other texting apps.
These “other” apps are what we’re focusing on today because so many kids put their “other app” handle in their app bio lines.
Because their parents have approved (and monitor!) one app, so they have found a super clever way to interact in another, unmonitored space.
I recommend that you get familiar with these apps, and then—you guessed it—discuss what you’ve learned with your kids. They should be super wary of anyone who asks them to leave the app they’re on in order to message or text in one of these apps instead.
Let’s dig in.
Kik is a free messaging app for smartphones. The app has a built-in web browser and all sorts of internal native apps. Crucially, you can find and chat with total strangers on Kik and it is anonymous—you don’t need to link your account to a phone number, and you don’t need to use your real name.
WhatsApp is a free instant messaging app that lets you send messages, images and videos to friends. You can have both one-on-one and group conversations with WhatsApp. This app is designed to send customizable photos or video clips to anyone in a user’s contact list, making it really easy to sext and share inappropriate photos. WhatsApp recently showed up on a list of fully encrypted apps. You can see where while this may be a great feature for adults who are worried about online privacy, this feature can be problematic for parents trying to make sure their kids are okay online!
At first glance, Calculator% looks like a regular calculator, but when you open it up and type in your password, it opens up into a place to store hidden pictures and files that can't be found elsewhere else on your phone. There are many variations of this app, so, especially in the beginning, it's so important to click into EVERYTHING on your kids' phones. Also, check iTunes and Google Play for these kinds of apps, sometimes called "photo vaults."
Burn Note is a messaging app that erases messages after a certain amount of time. Burn Note is for messages only (no pictures or videos), but do not let this lull you into thinking that it’s a safe app! To discourage screen caps, or proof, a spotlight-like system only reveals a part of a message at a time. Anyone can receive a Burn Note whether they are signed into the app or not. So if your kid is using it, you have to be hyper-vigilant about discussing what they're doing on it and why.
Whisper is a free social networking app that boasts being a space for users to post pictures and share secrets anonymously as well as chat with other "whisperers." The "whispers" are text expressions of secrets placed over stylized images. Not only is the anonymity problematic in terms of bullying and rumor spreading, but Whisper also reveals a user's location which means that your whispers can show up in lists of nearby whispers which makes it too easy for whisperers to arrange to meet up and for predators to locate and connect with victims.
Something (important) to note
There are, of course, other apps like these to learn about. But the basic idea is this: if someone is wanting text in an encrypted and / or unmonitored space, teach your kids to discern why this is and to come talk to you about it.
The skills of discerning and questioning are ones that our kids need to have and that we need to be super purposeful and relentless in teaching.
I’ve taught my kids to watch for things like this and when in doubt, “Screen Cap and Tell.” Consider this a modern day version of “Stop, Drop, and Roll.”
So often our kids wait and see if things escalate before they do this, and by then their “proof” might already be gone.
If your kids are starting to show an interest in the online world …
I have a detailed checklist for you to use. It’s super helpful and you can get it RIGHT HERE.
Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. You can get her parents’ checklist for moms of new(ish) digital kids RIGHT HERE.
P.S. This is a 6 week series about raising digital kids.
Week 1 we discussed screen time limits and whether they’re helpful or harmful.
Week 2 how to keep our kids safe, but still allow them to enjoy all of the benefits that the online world has to offer.
Week 3 we discussed how to handle app asks, especially if our kids ask about an app that we’ve already heard bad things about.
Week 4 we discussed tricky online areas to watch for.
And next week we will be discussing how much to give/take screen time as a privilege/consequence for behavior. See you then!