A Parents’ Guide to Their Child’s Social Media
I recently had a conversation with an 11 year old fifth grade girl about how she got her smart phone and tablet taken away. I started to discuss ways she might earn trust from her parents so she could get her privileges back when she said, “Well, then I guess I should confess to you that I also got in trouble because I had an app called Omegle and I pretended to be 16 so I could talk to adults and one asked for naked pictures so I sent them.” The counselor in me kept a straight face (wanted to make sure she kept talking), but the mother in me, in my head, said, “You did WHAT??! There’s no WAY you’re getting your electronics back, ever!” I consider myself a tech savvy person, and I also try to stay very involved in my kids’ usage of electronics, internet and social media, but new apps are coming out all the time. I had never heard of Omegle. She told me it is an app that will connect you with complete strangers all over the world. Incidentally, I asked my 13 year old if he had ever heard of it, and of course he had. Little did I know.
During this same recent time period, friends and I have been educating our kids’ friends’ parents about social media so they are more aware of what our kids might be exposed to. We even had our own “technology day” to help each other learn what our kids have known for years, how to play on the computer. As a result of these two recent events, I started researching the options for parental controls on smart phones and tablets and was pleasantly surprised to find some great options out there that many parents don’t utilize. Here is the information that I think most parents need to know if they have a child using a tablet or a phone that allows apps.
Operating Systems and Accounts
Iphones, Ipads, Ipad Minis, Ipod Touch, and Ipods use Apple’s iTunes Store. You need an account with a password and it is linked to a credit card for downloads that cost. If you have a gift card, you still need an account, and once the gift card balance is $0, apps that cost will be charged to the credit card you have linked to the account. Free apps DO require a password to download, which is good because it gives you more control. If your child knows your iTunes account password they can download apps, games, videos, movies and music without you knowing. Ways to monitor this are listed in Parental Controls listed below.
The majority of other tablets and smart phones use an Android Operating System and purchase apps, games, music, movies, videos and books from Google Play or Amazon’s Appstore for Android. If you have an Amazon account, things can be purchased through that linked credit card, with a password. Google Play requires a gmail account and linked credit card. However, free apps do NOT require a password, so kids can download easily. Therefore an extra step is required for parental controls.
There are so many social media apps and so much I can say about them that this article could go on and on. Instead I will list them here with a brief description and if you need more information message me or google it. The term “social media” means people interacting online with others. So all of the apps listed are ways your child might be communicating with their friends, celebrities, or strangers.
Facebook. Age 13 and up. Sharing information, pictures, life with friends. Many youth have thousands of Facebook “friends”, many of whom they have never met in person. Watch for bullying on Facebook, others posting mean and crude things to each others’ sites or about each other. Many kids don’t accept “friend requests” from their parents, or create alternate personas to hide their info from adults. This is not an inherently bad site, but use caution if your child goes to great lengths to hide it from you.
Twitter. Can also be accessed from other apps such as HootSuite, TweetDeck, TweetBot. People who use Twitter “tweet” short bursts of information to their “followers”. This can be very useful if you follow news media or topics related to your profession, or if you enjoy seeing what celebrities have to say in their daily lives. Many people don’t like Twitter, but I read it every day and always find something interesting and informative. However, I have also seen teens bully each other on Twitter, slandering someone they are mad at to all of their friends following them. It is possible to limit followers and who has access to your tweets, but many teens don’t.
Vine. A spinoff of Twitter, but instead of a short burst of information, it is a short burst of video. Some of the things you see on here are cute and funny. But others can be quite inappropriate with minimal filter.
Instagram. An app to post one picture at a time, or a very short video and people can “like” it or comment on it. Most of the young people I see are pretty good about not just letting anyone follow them, they must approve you first. Posts can be to all of your followers, or directly to one person. The dangers I have observed have been ex-friends hacking into each others’ accounts and posting mean or inappropriate things, or kids having their account removed by a parent, then creating another fake account their parent doesn’t know about. Kids are also using the direct messaging feature to text young friends who do not have phones. (See texting below.)
SnapChat. Sending a picture or video to a friend on your snapchat list, but it only lasts 10 seconds. Originally a cute, fun idea because the pictures don’t stay on your phone and kids use it to send silly messages to others. The downside is that kids can send risqué pictures and their parents will never find them.
Tumblr. Kind of like having a mini webpage, blog, photo album. This one is not quite as popular as others with the kids but some do use it.
Kik. A very popular chat app with young teens and preteens, even though it is advertised as an over 17 application. Create a username and chat with random strangers, friends and celebrities through wifi. It also has a browser to connect it to the internet. Kids have told me they were able to chat with actual celebrities, but with the random stranger option, how do they really know?
Omegle. I listed this earlier. It is an over 17 app that connects you with anonymous strangers worldwide to chat. I guess since my 11 year old friend had it, it’s not too hard to sneak past the over 17 feature…
Grindr and Jack’d. These are two over 17 apps that help gay men meet other gay men. Some of my young male gay clients (under age 17!) have a difficult time meeting other gay teens locally, so they use this to meet others in the extended community. Unfortunately they also tell me that some creepy men on these apps like to send pictures and live chat naked and or just show their genitals.
Skype. There is a paid version, but the free version allows you to video chat with someone through a wifi connection. I have seen kids who have used this to get naked with a boyfriend or girlfriend and have virtual sex. There is also a chat function without video, and the app can be on a laptop, tablet or phone so some kids whose parents are monitoring their texting don’t know to monitor this also to see who their child is chatting with, i.e. troublemaker ex-boyfriend.
Tango. Similar to Skype with video and chat function.
Xbox Live. This is not automatically on your child’s Xbox, it is a feature you pay a subscription for and must use wifi. If your child is using this feature to interactively play games with their friends, please know they can also interact and play games with complete strangers of any age.
MineCraft. On Minecraft you can either play in single player mode or multiplayer mode. You can play in creative mode or survival mode. The safest and calmest are single player mode, creative mode. In server mode you can play against other people you may not know. There is not a feature to talk to other people, but you can type chat. Some servers bleep out bad words or ban chatting. My kids like to play with their friends while also talking on Skype so they are using two apps at once and having a full interactive experience. We parents have had to intervene at times when we have caught wind of bullying and bad language on their server.
Most parents, even if they don’t text, know about it and how it works. Please also be aware, however, that it does not require a cell phone to text. Tablet and iPad apps that allow people to text, send pictures and videos through wifi are very popular and well known. Taking your child’s cell phone away when they are in trouble may not affect much if they are also texting through a tablet. Some of the free texting apps include Pinger, TextFree, Viber, TextPlus, but there are many others.
There are more parental controls than I realized and I was thrilled to find this out. There are apps through iTunes and Google Play that you can put on a device that will monitor data given out, limit what sites the device can access, prevent it from allowing location pinging, and track usage and time. AVG, Norton, Mspy, NetNanny and many others have services that monitor devices. In addition there are apps that can track your child’s phone and usage, or shut off a device after a designated amount of time. I downloaded Parental TimeLock and we are trying that.
On iTunes, you can enable the iCloud, so that any application that is downloaded to a device will also download to your device. This way you will know what your child is downloading even if they didn’t ask you. If this gets out of hand, you can also change your iTunes password and not give it to your child so they have to come ask you every time they want to download something.
Androids do not have this same cloud feature but you can sync multiple gmail accounts into one on the Google website and can then go in and see what has been downloaded. This requires the extra step of going to check, but it is nice that the option is there.
I also found instructions on how to set restrictions on the iPad and Droid tablets so they cannot access inappropriate websites. See the links below.
Other important information
Selfie. A selfie is a picture someone takes of themselves, with their own phone, and posts on one of the above sites or sends to friends. People of all ages have sent naked pictures of themselves to others. For consenting adults, this is one thing. But underage youth tend to underestimate the depth of the internet and how once a picture is out there, it can go “viral” as they say. I met with the dad of a 16 year old who answered the door to FBI agents letting him know his daughter’s naked picture was uploaded to an underage porn website. The girl was shocked and humiliated. She had sent the picture to one boy she knew, but from there it was out of her control.
#Hashtag. The pound sign (#) is now called a hashtag in social media. By definition it is a short word or phrase that sums up the gist of a message. What many people don’t realize, however, is that a hashtag is also a search feature. Especially on Twitter and Instagram, the # allows the phrase behind it to be found by others. So if I add this article to Twitter with #kidsandsocialmedia, anyone on twitter looking for tweets with the words included will be drawn to my post. This is great if I am trying to advertise my blog and want to draw attention to it. Not so great if I am a kid on Instagram and under my picture I post #captionthis and then strangers can easily find me.
Here are a few links for setting restrictions on devices, on YouTube, and a great blog article for parental control app suggestions for Android devices.
iPad restriction settings
Parental Controls on Android Devices
Parental Controls on YouTube
10 Best Android Parental Control Apps
During this writing I set the restrictions on my son’s iPad and while he was playing with it we discovered I had missed a step. So I had to go set it again. This reiterates the need to be aware of what your kids are doing and why they are doing it. I wrote this article to help parents be educated about things their kids already know a whole lot about, but don’t always have the wisdom to make good decisions. I hope this information was helpful. By no means do I think the apps listed above are inherently bad. I use many of them and so do my kids. My point is that we as parents need to be educated, aware and interactive with our children.
Important note, the young girl mentioned above is not a sneaky troublemaker with unsupervising parents. Her parents are educated smart phone users, and the girl is a gifted student who has never been in trouble. But recently her self esteem has suffered as a result of the developmental changes that happen in intermediate school…”dating” and fat jokes and makeup and social pressure. She stated she was looking for someone new to talk to because she felt lost with her usual circle of friends. When she got in over her head she didn’t want to ask for help because she didn’t want her parents to know she had broken the rules. Her parents report that since they took her electronics away, she has seemed relieved and happier and more like her old self. They are reluctant to give everything back, but they are certainly more educated than they were before if they do.