The biggest danger with messaging apps for younger children is unsupervised conversations, bullying, video privacy safety, sharing adult content, sexting and risk of contact by strangers.
With children using devices more and more to connect during this pandemic, it is essential that parents understand how to encourage their children to use messaging apps with safety.
Some Tips For Parents For Safe Use Of Messaging Apps
- Check Age ratings for apps, and reviews on www.commonsensemedia.org first!
- Some messaging apps encourage the user to share their user name to social media platforms and to sync their devices’ address book. This is a danger for children due to the extra exposure, and risk your child maybe connected with someone that may not be a suitable chat contact.
- Set Privacy Settings To Block Stranger Messages: Not all messaging apps have secure privacy settings, so children may be sent messages directly without a friend request. Instruct children never to accept unknown friend or message contact requests or to answer calls or messages from unrecognised numbers or contacts.
- “Lock rooms” when chatting, Zoom/Houseparty. Don’t upload address book or link with other social media apps.
- Be sure that location settings have also been disabled for messaging apps for privacy through settings.
- Don’t Use Real Names: Ensure your child sets up messaging or gaming accounts with pseudonym user names. Make sure they share user names only with approved friends.
- Share a Skype or Apples Messaging account with your younger child to supervise messaging in real time. This way you can see the messages and chat whilst it is taking place. Do let all participants know you are supervising including parents of your child’s friends in the chat. Facebooks Kids Messenger allows parents to supervise contacts and chat requests.
- Video chat: Make sure children ask permission to use video chat or voice chat for privacy reasons as background noise/images and your private conversations may be heard by their friends.
- Supervision is very important when children are first starting to use messaging apps. Make sure all participants in the chat know that mum or dad are supervising for reasons of full disclosure and respect for privacy
- As always keep your child with their device in a family area in the home, rather than in a bedroom or study. Seeing HOW your child is reacting to their screen is vital to maintaining safety.
- Have open conversations about how to manage messaging apps, and how to use them safely. Set expectations around use, and behaviour.
- Make sure your child knows that they can tell you ANYTHING that they see or experience online not matter what. A safe space to report is vital to be able to protect your child.
Dangerous 18+ Message Apps To Watch Out For
Kik, Yubo and Omegle, are highly dangerous for kids and teens. Any app that publicises that you can “Make New Friends” is a dangerous app. They usually involve random chats with strangers and often allow anonymous unverified accounts. These apps are known for a high probability of grooming by pedophiles and live porn.
Warning: Omegle 18+ has started to gain popularity again recently under a new mobile format. Commonsense Media have rated it as highly dangerous for kids. See below from the linked review
Safest Messaging Apps For Kids
The safest messaging apps for children are ones with privacy settings, and parental controls that actually block messages from reaching your child, where they only get contacted by people they know. No public groups like Discord or Houseparty.
Apple FaceTime and Apple Messenger have good privacy settings and some parental controls. Both have good privacy and security settings used in conjunction with Apples Parental control settings called “Screentime”.
Apples screentime parental controls can manage contacts and friend requests and set time limits for use of the app. See my manual for a simple step by step guide to safety settings for Apple messenger/Facetime and Apple parental controls called Screentime. www.thecybersafetylady.com.au/keepingkidssafeonline
Apple Messenger and FaceTime only work on Apple devices, for a “cross platform” solution for Android and Apple you can use a shared Skype account that is set up by the parent, who can vet contacts and see messaging in real time, or Facebooks Kids Messenger App.
Kids Messenger from Facebook has been released in more countries this year, including in Australia. This app does not require a child to have a Facebook account. It allows children to “share” the messenger account with an adult who can have contact approval and chat request approval before the child is allowed to connect a new friend, or accept a chat with a friend. Parents can supervise chats and blocking. More Here: