How you feel about social media probably has a lot to do with your age. While the rest of us are free to fall anywhere on a sliding scale from begrudging oversharing to loving the constant communication with friends, parents face a whole new host of issues and fears.
These include making sure your kids are only exposed to age-appropriate content, that they don’t over-share private information, and attempting to keep them safe from cyber bullies. How to navigate these unchartered waters is something we cover in-depth in “Stranger Danger: Protecting Your Children from Cyber Bullying, Sexting, & Social Media.”
Despite your best efforts to set boundaries, there are still plenty of social networks that flat out leave parents feeling ill at ease—particularly those with less-than-savory reputations.
But, does an instance of negative media attention mean you should simply hit “delete” if a questionable app appears on your teen’s phone? Diana Graber, an advocate for internet safety and responsible digital citizenship, shares that she was given exactly that advice when attending a “Youth and Technology” workshop:
“A tech expert advised us to go home and immediately remove or filter these offending apps from our kids’ phones because ‘nothing good ever happens on them.’”
The problem, as many parents can attest, is that saying something is off limits rarely stops the activity. In “When Apps Get a Bad Rap,” Graber shares a recent study conducted by the computer security firm McAfee which found that 61% of teens feel confident that they know how to hide what they do online from parents—and 71% of teens have actually done something to hide their online behavior.
61% of teens feel confident that they know how to hide what they do online from parents.
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Instead of simply outlawing the unfamiliar, Graber encourages parents to communicate with preteens and teens to establish healthy boundaries and preset guidelines if an interaction feels wrong.
Some smartphone applications, such as The PocketGuardian, promise to help you do just that by monitoring your child’s social accounts for signs of sexting and cyberbullying—notifications are then coupled with resources to help you talk to you child. TeenSafe, a similar application, allows you to check on your child’s activities, messages, and even location.
Not quite comfortable with the idea of monitoring your teen’s smartphone usage? To help you fight the urge to take a hard line against all usage of unfamiliar social networks, we’ll share some insight into two trending applications that have parents on edge, then follow up with some best practices that can be used across the web.
What Is Ask.fm All About?
Ask.fm is an anonymous question-and-answer app that’s wracked up 57 million users, and is adding members at a rate of 200,000 a day. The platform, which was launched in June 2010, offers a Web and mobile space where people create profiles so that anyone, not just other members, can ask them questions.
iPhone Screenshots. Image via iTunes.
Today, Ask.fm use has sky-rocketed, thanks to its reputation as a parent-free digital space where kids can go to goof off and escape the built-in accountability of Facebook. It’s not just in the United States, either. According to brother co-founders Mark and Ilja Terebin, Ask.fm is big in Brazil, the U.S., Italy, Russia, the U.K., Germany, Turkey, Argentina, Poland, and France, with a presence in 150 total countries.
Why Does Ask.fm Have a Bad Reputation?
From the start, Ask.fm enjoyed a playground-like atmosphere. Lest you think it’s all likely to make your ears go red, many of the questions posed on Ask.fm are plainly harmless teen chat: “What's your worst primary school memory?” “Last movie that made you cry?” “Are you afraid of the dentist?” “Fave 1D [One Direction] member?”
However, like any playground, the platform also features less innocuous commentary, including asking for gossip about people by name, who a user hates most in their school, or requests of a more sexual nature.
Furthering scrutiny, Ask.fm has come under fire after several teens committed suicide—each after having been the victim of savage cyber bullying on the anonymous network.
It’s the anonymity that opponents of Ask.fm claim make it an inappropriate platform for teens. Inciting even more anger from parents is that Ask.fm’s five co-founders are not very forthcoming with solutions. Several have argued that the “negativity” on Ask.fm is merely a reflection of society’s failings, and of a lack of proper internet education.
How to Help My Teen Stay Safe on Ask.fm?
We say “teen” because Ask.fm has an age restriction stating that it can only be used by those over the age of 13.
Assuming your child is of age to use Ask.fm, remember that it’s not all cyber bullying and slander. Instead, ask your teen what they use Ask.fm for, what kind of questions they pose, and if they’re comfortable with both the answers and unsolicited attention that they receive on the network.
“I asked my 15-year old about Ask.fm, the anonymous question and answer platform used regularly by lots of young people who love it for its anonymous nature,” says Graber.
“What I learned by talking to my daughter is that her school’s anti-tobacco club is considering using the site to answer kids questions about smoking and about the growing and concerning use of ‘e-cigs.’ They plan to take advantage of the anonymous nature of the app to give kids a ‘safe’ place to share information with their peers.”
Looking for tips on how to spot cyber bullying? Check out the section “What Can You Do if Your Child is the Victim of Cyber Bullying?” for a list of warning signs and steps to take, should your fears be confirmed.
What’s Snapchat All About? How Does Snapchat Work?
It’s normal for preteens and teens to want to socialize with friends away from parental supervision. Snapchat, a free photo and video sharing app, gives teens the ability to share messages and silly moments that have all the appeal of a spy message, disappearing in 10 seconds.
Once used just for sending short video clips to friends, Snapchat is starting to offer a more well-rounded appeal as a platform for users to share news and stories. It recently debuted its very own news show, Good Luck America, by putting former CNN correspondent Peter Hamby on the campaign trail in Iowa.
In her article, “What Parents Don’t Get About Snapchat,” Graber shares that “two times more young people between 18-24 watched the first GOP debate on Snapchat than on TV.”
Snapchat’s “Discover.” Image via Huffington Post.
Another reason Snapchat is gaining steam? With the launch of their “Discover” function, users can access a wide range of top media companies, from The Wall Street Journal to Cosmopolitan, through the tap of a single icon. Content is delivered in a combination of video and images that’s ad-free. Additionally, it disappears within one day, removing the irritation of having to sift through the same rehashed stories.
Isn’t Snapchat Just for “Sexting”?
Sharing images or short video clips of a sexual nature, otherwise known as sexting, is ranked right up there in any parent’s please-don’t-let-them-do-that top ten list—making Snapchat appear to be the digital equivalent of a closed bedroom door.
How did Snapchat earn such a racy reputation?
The short shelf life of Snapchat messages led many users to incorrectly believe that content could be sent without leaving a lingering trace—forgetting that ten seconds leaves plenty of time for screenshots to be snapped of an otherwise private chat.
How to Help My Teen Stay Safe on Snapchat?
Again, we say “teen” because Snapchat’s terms limit the use of the application to only those over 13. Assuming that your kids are within the age limit to use Snapchat, there’s still that unsavory reputation to address.
Doing so first means setting some ground rules about the what are and aren’t appropriate images—including a frank conversation about the dangers and consequences of sexting.
“Two times more young people between 18-24 watched the first GOP debate on Snapchat than on TV.”
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Once those boundaries are set, parents should try not to be intimidated by their teen’s obsession with snapping pictures of every mundane moment. Cyberwise co-founder Cynthia Lieberman advises parents to approach their child’s digital behaviors as being mindful of what they are doing rather than being overly cautious.
“Like with any media—be it TV, film, music or digital—it is the parent’s responsibility to determine what content is appropriate for each child and at what age, and doing so requires knowledge and care. Parents need to establish an open communication line early and often.”
What Are Some Best Practices for My Kids on Social Media?
To answer this question, we turned to Justin Lavelle, background check expert and Communications Director for BeenVerified. What does someone who’s skilled at discovering your public data suggest to keep your kids safe from cyber bullying or an overshare fallout?
1. Limit what pictures your kids are posting
“Once a photo is posted, you lose control over it, and someone can come along and crop it, edit it, tag it, and use it how they see fit. For these and many other reasons, many parents don’t want to have their kids’ photos posted on social media.”
While this tip seems at odds with Snapchat usage entirely, it’s important for parents to remember that since the advent of mobile phones, pictures have shifted from something used to capture a memory to just another way of sharing what’s going on. For parents of teens over 13, this is where establishing open communication comes into play.
However, pictures of preteens and kids too young to have their own social media accounts should be more stringently protected.
Instead, Lavelle suggests that parents use programs like Flickr and Picasa that require a login so you can limit who sees photos that include your family and kids. Also, be sure to use your phone’s privacy settings and turn off the GPS, so locations aren’t documented should you choose to share the photos. (GPS info is stored with the photo and predators can track down your kids through digital information.)
What about images snapped at a family get together? When friends take pictures with your child included, let them know right away you don’t want it posted online—it’s easy to crop photos these days so your child doesn’t need to be included in the post.
2. Take the time to set up parental controls
Many applications have built-in safety features to help parents control what their kids can see and do.
This includes Snapchat, which has settings allowing parents to limit who can see the photos and videos that your teen posts. Remind your teen that by sending “Snaps” according to Snapchat’s terms of service, they are granting nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, and display such user content in connection with the services, subject to your use of privacy settings in the services.
Many applications have built-in safety features to help parents control what their kids can see and do.
In simpler terms, this means that even Snapchat can share your teen’s pic without their permission—something to think about before sharing.
Lavelle’s suggestions for parental settings? Don’t allow pop-ups that kids might accidentally click on that could take them to an adult site. Additionally, you may even consider using a cell phone made just for kids to reduce the risk of them coming in contact with adult content.
3. Know who your kids’ friends are
Social networks such as Snapchat were designed for “real life” friends, but it is possible for other users to gain access to your teen’s screen name or phone number from another source, enabling a stranger to add them as a friend.
Parents should make the effort to regularly remind their teens to block anyone they don’t know or don’t want viewing what’s shared. Also, be sure that your teen knows how to use the safety feather to report abuse of inappropriate Snaps.
Remember That Social Networks Aren’t Inherently Good Or Bad
Whether snapping pics or sharing opinions, online behavior has real-life consequences—but it can also provide an encouraging platform for news, social activism, and art.
Still nervous about Snapchat?
Instead of trying to play whack-a-mole with any given one of the thousands of media-sharing apps that kids use, it’s important for kids to develop critical thinking skills. Know, too, that the values and social skills you’re teaching them to help stay safe in digital media also impact other aspects of their lives. After all, you can’t just “block” a workplace bully or take back an inappropriate email later in life.
The values and social skills you’re teaching them to help stay safe in digital media also impact other aspects of their lives.
Instead, Diana Graber reminds us that, “just like every tool introduced since the beginning of time, it can be used for harm or for good. But telling teens to delete it (good luck with that by the way) isn’t a solution to reducing harm. A better solution is for all of us to work together at keeping kids under 13 off the app... and to make sure young people are learning digital citizenship skills to use it well.”
Finally, remember that there’s no need to panic every time you hear a media report about something awful happening on a social network. After all, how often do you see headlines about planes landing safely? We only hear about the ones that crash. Of course, kids can get into trouble using Snapchat or any other service, but the same can be said for driving a car. That’s why we teach them how to drive.
The bottom line? Justin Lavelle says it best:
“Educate kids that technology can be good when used constructively, but it can also ruin lives when used inappropriately. In this day and age, a ‘do-over’ is less likely to happen.”
More on Social Media Safety:
- 10 Current Facebook Scams and How to Avoid Them
- What Facebook Knows About You (and How They Profit Off Your Private Info)
- The 10 Biggest Facebook Scams & How to Avoid Them
About Cynthia Lieberman
Cynthia Lieberman is co-Founder for CyberWise.org and runs Lieberman Communications, a content marketing and PR consultancy firm for Fortune 500 companies. Equipped with a graduate degree in the pioneering field of Media Psychology and Social Change, Lieberman serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). She currently teaches Social Media Marketing UCLA Extension and recently taught Mass Communications at California State University, Northridge, as an Adjunct Professor.
About Diana Graber
Diana Graber is co-founder of CyberWise.org and CyberCivics.com, two organizations dedicated to helping adults and kids learn digital literacy skills. A long-time media producer with an M.A. in “Media Psychology & Social Change,” Graber is also a regular contributor on digital media topics to the Huffington Post and others. She was also Adjunct Professor of Media Psychology at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP).
About Justin Lavelle
Justin Lavelle is the Communications Director of BeenVerified.com. BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.