Keeping kids safe online is an issue almost all parents grapple with in an era when the average age of getting a smartphone is just over 10 years old. Chief among parents’ concerns are bad apps for kids that could compromise their safety.
And the potential risks are more serious than ever.
Instead of concerns about accidental in-app purchases or too much screen time, the toddlers who grew up with tablets are becoming the kids facing risks like bullying and communicating with strangers when they use certain apps.
“Basically, you’re turning your kid free on the internet when you hand them a smartphone,” says Jean MacLeod, former social media specialist at Oakland Schools. “They are going to misuse apps and most of the time it’s just by ignorance.”
But warning your kids of the dangers and monitoring their phones isn’t always enough to keep them safe.
A growing number of apps let kids communicate anonymously and leave no record behind for even the most diligent of parents to find.
“They’re not designed to be malicious. However, because there’s anonymity, people will do things with them,” MacLeod says.
Top bad apps for kids
Here’s a look at some of the more risky apps currently being used by young people – but remember that new apps are released daily and trends change quickly.
“As soon as another bad app gets taken off the market, another app will take its place,” MacLeod notes.
It’s an app where kids can send messages for free that won’t show up as texts. It utilizes usernames and could let strangers get in touch with your child. Kik was reportedly used before the murder of a 13-year-old girl in 2016.
Now pretty well-known, this app lets kids send and receive “self-destructing” photos and videos. It has been linked to sexting and harassment, and its Snap Maps feature has also caused extra safety concerns among parents.
This online community lets users interact anonymously. Content can be inappropriate and some users share personal information, according to Common Sense Media.
Teens can create and watch live broadcasts with this app. Unfortunately, they often accidentally share personal information with anonymous viewers.
5. House Party
This group video chat app could let kids get into conversations with people they don’t know due to mutual connections, according to Educate Empower Kids. Like other apps, there is also concern over users saving screenshots without the consent of other participants.
Michigan police have called this free app “Tinder for Teens.” Kids can make new friends through Snapchat and Instagram. The app does not have an age verification, so police fear this could bring kids in contact with predators.
This quick-video social networking app lets teens connect with other teens. While it touts safety measures, Common Sense Media has noted that it’s appropriate for ages 17-plus, as it doesn’t verify age and could share personal information with third parties.
Knowing which apps to keep off your child’s phone is only a small part of keeping kids safe. With that in mind, MacLeod recommends the following tips for parents to help kids navigate the responsibility that comes with their phones.
1. Know there are always more bad apps for kids
“There will always be the next bad app,” she says. “Protect your child if she or he is being victimized, but don’t waste your time playing whack-a-mole with apps. Educating is far greater than reacting, and has long-term preventative benefits.”
2. Educate yourself
“You can’t monitor social media if you are not on social media,” MacLeod says. “Get on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and follow your kids. If your kids aren’t old enough for an account, or if they stick with smartphone apps like Snapchat or Kik, you will still glean social parenting knowledge from participating on the major social media platforms.
“Being on social media allows you a glimpse into the world your kids are living in – and gives you the opportunity to guide them away from inappropriate people or behaviors.”
3. Stay calm
“We want to stay very calm when discussing social media with our teens,” she reminds parents. “Follow/friend your kids online, but never post on their platforms without permission. Some of you will find that your kids actually don’t mind your silent lurking … they recognize on some level that you’ve got their back.”
4. Teach kids how to fix mistakes
“We all make mistakes online; our kids think their social world is the entire world. They need our help to see past the immediate crisis,” MacLeod says. “Part of fostering your social media apprentices is teaching them that their social media blunder is not going to doom their future.
“Teach them how to fix the situation, help them learn from their mistake and show them how to move forward.”
5. Educate and mentor
Prevent mistakes by educating your teens and tweens, she advises.
“Remember, our kids’ brains and behaviors can be shaped and changed via practical experience,” she says. “We parents and educators must take responsibility for guiding our children and students, realizing that while social media can be destructive, when used knowledgeably, it has an even greater power to help our kids succeed.”
For further guidance and insight when it comes to monitoring bad apps for kids – and teaching them important lessons about how they approach using their smartphones – try these resources.
This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.