With some children as young as 4 years old receiving iPods, computer tablets, and some parents thinking of giving their young child a smart phone. Parents need to know the dangers behind handing over an internet connected device without enabling the parental controls. If parents don’t monitor their child’s use of mobile devices, their child might download and use an app where they are connecting with adults right around the world. They might be uploading videos and photos of themselves to the internet without your knowledge, and could potentially then be a victim of cyber bullying or a predatorial experience.
If your child is under 13 years of age, you should consider having at least some parental controls on their mobile device enabled. If over 13 years of age, you need to know what the apps are that they are downloading and how they can be used if you want to keep your child safe online. Parental controls can include not being able to download an app without a parents password. Or being blocked from using particular apps you might not want them to use. You can also put timers on the use of the device, so it cannot be used in the middle of the night.
So what apps are kids using and how dangerous are they?
Some of the apps I’ve highlighted below are very popular with children under 13 years of age. A quick cursory look through the public stream on each of them is unfortunately showing that far too many young children are using these apps sometimes against the “Terms Of Service” set by each app. Some of the age ratings on these apps seem quite confusing. For example the age rating for “Zoosk” a dating app is set at 4+ (age 4 years and older) . Some of these mobile apps also have very expensive “in app purchases” These are purchases you can make using a credit card or a “gift card” within the free app itself. App users are encouraged to buy extra “in app” product to “level up” or to access the other premium features of the app. Disabling the setting for “in-app purchasing” on your child’s device will prevent your child running up a huge debt through purchasing “in-app” purchases which can really add up.
What is safe for kids?
Anything that has a social sharing aspect to it, or an ability to meet with strangers online is not safe for children.
Skype is quite safe for kids to use as long as it is supervised, and you have the very simple privacy settings set up. So that only they or you can add friends to their address book. Be sure to talk to your kids about appropriate behaviour on Skype and when and when not to use the video feature.
Facetime and iMessage on apple mac devices is also safe, but again parents need to supervise and educate on appropriate use.
Note: If you set the parental controls on your child’s mobile device to something like Age 9 and younger only, an app like Zoosk which is clearly designed for adults will still appear on the app store and can be downloaded because it’s rated for 4 year old and over.
You Now. 12+ Free A Live Video Streaming App (Apple)
What is it? A live video streaming app, where kids as young as 7 years of age are videoing themselves in order to win points. They get voted up or off! “Feedback” given.
Dangers: Kids filming themeselves and inside their homes. Potential privacy issues. Bullying in live chat. Children are being viewed and followed by adults. There have been cases reported anecdotally of pedophiles watching the videos and encouraging kids to do explicit things. Adults concepts swearing can be found in the life streamed video. Privacy issues.
Scout: 17+ Free Dating App for adults (Apple & Android)
Very expensive in-app purchases.
What is it? Search for “friends” by category and get “checked out”
Dangers: Meeting strangers online. Can be searched for by location. Potential for your child to be groomed by a pedophile or bullied by a stranger.
Zoosk: 17+ Free Dating App for adults (Apple & Android)
What is it? An app for meeting strangers online to “hook up” with. Also includes searching for friends by location.
Dangers: Meeting strangers online. Bullying, exposure privacy issues. Expensive in-app purchases.
Kik 17yrs+ Free: An instant messaging app. (Apple & Android)
What is it? Instant Messaging Being used instead of SMS. You can send pictures and hold private and group conversations. Users can be searched for, if someone knows your user name or has the email you created the account with, they can search for you on Kik.
Dangers: Dangerous if sharing your user name online with other social networks. Some kids are sharing their Kik user name on Facebook, exposing themselves to strangers contacting them. Kik also scans your own address book, and not only gives you the accounts of Adults on Kik but their children’s accounts if the children have used a family email to create the account, which is very alarming! Can block other users.
Snapchat 13yrs+ Free: A photo sharing app (Apple & Android)
What is it? Used for sending SMS photos. Users set the pictures to delete after a few minutes.
What is it? For sharing photos on Instagram and other social networks. Has filters and frames that you can add to your pictures to make them look more attractive and professional. There is a privacy setting within Instagram, where you must approve followers, but you as the parent would have to supervise each follow.
Dangers: Stranger follows, if privacy setting not set. Location Services can be turned off and should. Instagram have set a few filters on terms you can search for, including sex terms and drug terms, but they don’t look that successful, I still found porn and drug pictures. Abuse in comments. Photos can be shared to Facebook and Twitter. Can report inappropriate content. Can block other users.
Vine: 17yrs+ Free: A public video sharing app, using your mobile devices camera. (Apple)
What is it? Take a short 6 sec video upload it to Vine share it on Facebook, it goes out publicly. You can report offensive videos. The video loops.
Dangers: Your child will attract, adults who will follow the child’s account, may find out where the video was taken via location services. Videos can be shared with Facebook and Twitter. Includes a lot of adult content in the viewing streams. Abuse in comments. You can block and report or share a profile
KEEK: 13yrs+ and then with parental permission up till 17+ : A public video sharing app. (Apple & Android)
What is it? Easy to use video uploading and sharing app, using your mobile devices video camera. You can block other users, and turn off comments. Keek Link
Dangers: Adults can subscribe to your child’s updates, view all their content and find out where they live through Geo Location. Comment on their video’s. No privacy settings or restrictions to adult content. NOT for kids. No parental controls. Update: April 2013. Profile can now be shared on Twitter and Facebook. This widens exposure.
Photos Credit: iTunes
Learn how to set up parental controls Here: