In today’s world of smartphones, tablets, and computers, practically everyone is online. And, with over 95% of teens owning a smartphone, most of their time is spent chatting, sharing photos, memes, streaming videos, and playing games in real-time. Today, many online platforms and social media apps enable teens to post personal photos and videos, play games with strangers and chat with them, or live stream to individuals and groups.
It’s pretty hard to keep track of what your teen is doing online. There are several negative aspects of these popular social media platforms and apps that can be quite dangerous in terms of privacy breaches, cyberbullying online predators, and sexting that can make you very worried as a parent about the safety and wellbeing of your teen. And so, you need to stay on top of things and keep track of what apps are popular with teens today and monitor your teens’ online activities.
According to a study, one of the most popular apps among teens, Snapchat is used by around 70% of teens between 13 to 17 years. The app lets you send pictures, text messages, and videos to others, disappearing after a few seconds. The app also offers special effects and filters that you can add to your pictures. You can post stuff onto your feed that remains life for 24 hours and some which disappear when you swipe or remove your finger off your screen.
The idea of disappearing messages often lulls kids into thinking that they are safe and encourages them to indulge in risky behaviors such as sending explicit pictures, sexting, etc. However, other users can take screenshots and record these, which can be saved and circulated and used for cyberbullying, predatory behavior, etc.
The “Discover” feature of Snapchat is particularly alarming as it allows users to create personal channels that may include explicit content, which may not be age-restricted and be accessible to teens and kids under the age of 18 years. Also, if you do not set your privacy setting correctly, strangers can use the map feature to find your exact location via your Snaps.
Earlier called Musical.ly, TikTok was ranked as one of the most popular apps of 2018, with more than 1 billion users across 150 countries. The Chinese platform allows you to create short 15-second videos and share them on the online platform. Initially, it was for teens, to make quick, fun videos of themselves dancing or lip-syncing to songs. However, now it is used for practically anything from comic videos, skits, cooking tutorials, demos, etc.
These videos can be reshared across various social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. The concern about TikTok is that by default, the accounts are public. If the settings are not made private, the user can be contacted directly by anyone, which makes them vulnerable to cyberbullying, trolling, receiving inappropriate messages, and sexual content.
So, it is important for parents to monitor their teens’ use of TikTok and ensure that their account is private so that no one can contact your teen and use the restricted mode, which will help filter out any inappropriate content.
Houseparty is a group video chat app that allows a group of 8 users to chat at a time via live video and texts. With over 60% of users under 24, Houseparty is the 4th most downloaded social media app. The app became a popular way for teens and young adults to network and stay in touch while maintaining social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The app allows users to add people on their contact list or via Facebook to the chat group. However, the app doesn’t monitor the chats, and the video is live. It could raise the risk of teens to expose to chats and content, which may not be appropriate. Users can also take screenshots and send links through live chat.
Also, there is an option where users can add people or strangers can join the chat, which can be a huge risk. You can reduce the risk of strangers to the chat by using privacy settings, turning off your location, and locking the chat.
Owned by Facebook, Instagram is hugely popular among teens. This free app allows you to share photos, videos, selfies, memes, etc., with friends. It also allows you to create collages of photos, add filters and share them across various social media platforms, and it also allows other users to comment on your posts. Instagram also has a private messaging feature.
Learn more about Dangers of Instagram – a full guide written for parents with all the ins and outs.
While Instagram is a great app to connect with friends, it also has many negatives that make it a cause of concern for parents, such as cyberbullying, fake profiles, targeted ads, unfiltered search content, etc. And, with the introduction of features like Fiestas, pornographic hashtags, direct messages (DM), and subtweeting, Instagram is not about photos and videos anymore.
With over 275 million users, Kik is a top-rated instant messaging app that allows you to text with your friends instantaneously and gives a more face-to-face kind of a feel than standard texting. The app offers users several ways to communicate with individuals, groups, and social networking platforms. It allows you to text photos, videos, pre-designed greeting cards, sketches, etc.
The app also allows you to use exclusive in-app mini-games, e-cards, emojis, etc. Kik Messenger does not have age verification for downloading and using the app, which means that it can be downloaded by kids younger than 13 years old.
As long as you have a smartphone, you can create an account on Kik even without giving a phone number, enabling any user to contact a user anonymously and send messages via text, video, or photos. The anonymous nature of the app can facilitate cyberbullying, sexting, stalking, etc., and there have been instances of kidnappings and murders linked to Kik Messenger.
Voxer is a walkie-talkie push-to-talk (PTT) app that allows you to receive and send quick, short voice messages to other users. The app allows you to chat with several people simultaneously and all you need to do is click on the play button to listen to all the messages you have received.
Voxer’s users are mainly adults, and in fact, the app is also often use people at their workplace to communicate with other employees. However, Voxer has become quite popular with teens who like it for its versatile mode of talking and texting in recent years. The app has links with several cases of cyberbullying and users sending hurtful and obscene messages.
This social media app allows you to ask your friends and other app users questions about any topic, including politics, religion, life, culture, travel, food, etc. The app allows you to ask your questions anonymously to gauge people’s views on various topics that may be of interest to you. You can ask your questions directly or indirectly, and the respondent can answer via text or video.
The Q&A format of the app is a unique way to chat, which has made the app quite popular. Ask.FM has rated 13+ ages; however, there is no age verification. The app has links to several cases of cyberbullying and even cases of suicide among teens. In fact, several schools in Britain have banned the app because of these incidents caused by a lack of monitoring and loss app regulations.
The app also allows users to pull photographs for Tinder profiles from Facebook. Users of the app can set their location, which facilitates face-to-face meetings. The app’s anonymous nature, as well as its geo-location features, makes it a hunting ground for predators, putting teens at risk for sexual harassment, catfishing, stalking, and other inappropriate behaviors.
Whisper is a confession app that allows people to share their secrets and express their feelings. The app allows users to post their confessions or messages overlapping a graphic or image just like an e-postcard, which they can then share with other users, who can like, comment, or share the message.
Whisper is like as an outlet for users to share their intimate secrets. There have been several instances of the questions and comments accompanied by pictures that are quite explicit and sexual. The app also makes personal content public. Rated 17+, Whisper allows users to create an account without a name, age, location, or any other information, and also, there is also no user verification.
Also, the app makes use of a GPS location tracker to track the users nearby. And, while the user’s identity is anonymous, the location from where the messages send can reveal, making it very easy for predators to track the user and connect with them easily. In fact, there has been an instance of a man who tracked a 12-year-old girl he met via the app and reportedly raped her.
Earlier known as Yellow, Yubo was known as the “Tinder for teens.” The app allows users to view photos of people in their area, become friends, and send private messages. The app allows you to swipe left or right to reject or accept profiles. And, if both users swipe right or accept each other’s profiles, then they can hook up and chat through Instagram or Snapchat.
The app has no age verification, making it quite easy to lie about your age, and even if you are under 13, Yubo defaults to an age where you can create an account. The app works only when you share your personal information and your location, enabling it to geotag you. Yubo does not have private profiles, which means that anyone, even strangers, can locate you, leading to inappropriate online behavior.
Marketed as a social media app where users can meet fun people, Holla allows users to connect with users across the globe and live chat with them. In fact, in 2020, the app was one of the best video chat apps, with more than 30 million users.
The free app enables people to have face-to-face video chats with strangers, making it unsuitable for kids and teens because online sexual predators can stalk them. There have been many instances where users have used the app to engage in sexual activities, exposing themselves and indulging in other inappropriate behavior.
Tumblr is a photo sharing, video sharing, and chatting app that is quite popular among high school kids. The micro-blogging platform allows the user to share all kinds of content from their page. However, in recent years, the culture of Tumblr has leanings towards darker and problematic topics such as drug use, depression, anxiety, and self-harm.
Teens often use the platform to explore all these issues, including other topics such as relationships, sexuality, body image, etc. Mental health experts believe that Tumblr can affect teens‘ mental health adversely as it tends to glorify eating disorders and self-harm.
Also, Tumblr accounts are public, which makes it quite unsafe for teens, and there is a lot of sexual content available on the platform. The user profiles of Tumblr are generally not verified, nor are they monitored, which makes it quite easy for predators to message teens and stalk them online.
This is essentially a free messaging app that allows users to send both direct and group messages. GroupMe became quite popular because of its wide range of GIFs and emojis. However, several are adult content and are not suitable for kids and teens. GroupMe can use for other things like sending money, scheduling events, etc.
Teens quite widely use GroupMe to share their homework. And, since teachers do not monitor the GroupMe groups, they have become a cause for rampant cheating. Further, the user has minimal control over the content, and once you post something on the group, you cannot delete it.
Also popularly referred to as OKC, OkCupid is a social networking, online dating, and friendship site. The app asks users to fill out a profile and personality quizzes using multiple-choice questions, which help to match with other users. These matches essentially help the users to find like-minded and compatible people who they can date.
While OKC may seem like a fun app, it makes teens vulnerable to exploitation by other teens, adults, and sexual predators. The platform has inappropriate content transmission, sexting, and solicitation.
With over 100 million members, Discord is a popular voice, video, and text chat platform. Originally used predominantly by gamers, teens commonly use the app to interact and keep in touch. Discord makes it easy for kids to spend time together, whether they are part of a gaming group, school club, or friends simply wanting to hang out.
Rated for 13+ years, the app allows users to send messages directly to each other, making kids and teens vulnerable to unwanted interaction with strangers. Also, since the conversations are not monitored or censored, there is no control over the discussed topics or the language used. Teens can also easily access and view adult content unsuitable for them.
One of the most popular online platforms with teens, YouTube has over 85% of users in the 13-to-17-year bracket in the U.S. alone. YouTube is a great platform that allows you to upload and share your videos and view content uploaded by other users. Not only is the platform a great resource for entertainment and educational content, but it also allows you to control the privacy settings.
While largely being a safe online platform, YouTube is not without its problems. There has been an infiltration of inappropriate content into the children’s content, making it unsuitable for viewing by kids and teens. Also, users can post inappropriate and spiteful comments on videos, and pedophile activity has been a major concern.
Technology is a double-edged sword. While on the one hand, it has made doing things faster, convenient, and more advanced, on the other hand, it has made parenting quite a challenge. With mobile devices being an integral part of our teens’ lives, keeping track of their online activity, the sites they browse, games they play,, and their apps have become extremely difficult.
While they use social media apps day in and day out to communicate and interact with their peers, kids don’t understand the negative consequences of the irresponsible use of apps. They need a responsible adult to guide them. And, finally, the onus falls on parents to monitor their child’s digital life to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
Maryam has been teaching IT as a school teacher for over a decade, and her main subject of choice is Internet safety, especially helping parents keep their families safe and secure online. When Maryam is not teaching or writing she is a big fan of the outdoors, the complete opposite of staring at a computer screen for hours.