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Parents Guide to Popular Apps for Kids

Thursday, October 24, 2019

These days, it seems like you can turn around for a second and there could be double or even triple the amount of new apps that parents should know about. 

But, knowing that they exist is really just the first step. Really understanding the ins and outs of these popular add-ons will allow you to determine which are dangerous apps for your kids and which can pass muster — with a few guidelines, of course.

This Cybersecurity Awareness Month, our Kinetic by Windstream team is here to help you get a better grasp on those with our parents guide to the most popular apps for children and teens.

TikTok

TikTok was initially Musical.ly, an app in which users could create up to a minute-long lip-syncing video and set it with different effects. In late 2017, Bytedance Technology Co. — the company that owns TikTok – acquired Musical.ly, and the next year, it consolidated the two, sticking with the TikTok name. 

Now, the app — with nearly 525 million users — is most known for its short videos, similar to the now defunct Vine. In its infant years, TikTok videos still stuck to its roots, music video content. But, in recent years, video content has diversified, ranging from fashion tips to cringe videos.

What succeeds on the app is user-generated content, which, at times, can be inappropriate for children of certain ages. It’s that very homey feel, though, that also allows marketing influencers to thrive on the social media platform. (This is the same platform in which vaping brands, such as Juul, have made large gains.) 

If you let your child use TikTok, there are a few settings you’ll want to manage. By default, the app makes all accounts public. So, you’ll want to change that to private mode, though users’ names and bios will still be accessible. You can change this under the “Privacy and Safety” tab. There, you can also change who can send comments or messages, who can react to you and whether to allow downloads.

Under the “Digital Wellbeing” tab, you can set how much time your child spends on the app and block inappropriate content. You’ll have to turn on this toggle, set a passcode and then set screen time and content restrictions.

Snapchat

You may be familiar with Snapchat’s capabilities, as the app is in its ninth year. If not, the app lets mobile users send photos and videos — or “snaps” — to others. The photo or video sender can decide how long the content lasts, what types of filters to add and more.

The gist of the app is that the photo or video will “disappear” after the selected period of time. Because of that, it can be difficult for parents to keep track of what children are sending or receiving. As with other image-related apps, Snapchat can expose children to inappropriate content.

And, of course, recipients of these snaps can screenshot images, though the sender will be notified. Recipients may also use other devices to record video or images without the sender knowing 

The biggest concerns parents should have with this app revolve around sexting and cyberbullying. While most users don’t use Snapchat to send explicit content, up to 25% may do so experimentally. And, according to one study, Snapchat ranked third in social media platforms in terms of online areas where children reported cyberbullying.

Parents should also be aware of one feature, Snap Map, which allows users to share their location in real-time with their friends. The risk here, of course, is that some users on your child’s friend list may be strangers.

YouTube

And, yet another video-related app! This app has the unique feature of being the second-most powerful search engine in the world. That means that whatever your child is searching for, he or she can likely find.

In recent years, the platform has raised alarms as parents found explicit content disguised as family programming. In many of these cases, the inappropriate content appeared in the middle of the children’s show. 

Experts say the best workaround for this is to, instead, download the YouTube Kids app, which only shows videos that are appropriate for children. Otherwise, it’s best to stick to channels that you know and trust, like Disney or My Little Pony Official. 

ASKfm

ASKfm is an app in which users allow others to ask them questions anonymously. This one has been billed by parents and even some law enforcement agencies as a dangerous app.

The anonymity provided in this app has made cyberbullying rampant (and has even led to some suicides). It’s also troubling because questions that users field can turn sexual, and conversations with these anonymous users often move offline or to a messaging app. (Kik is popular among this crowd as well.) 

Kik

Kik is a messaging app that lets users send texts, pictures, GIFs, videos and more. One thing to note is that any user can receive messages from anyone. That can especially be the case if a user publicizes his or her username on social media platforms. (Remember, too, that even though a social media profile may be private, a bio that includes such a link may not be.)

The app doesn’t include many parental controls, simply advising parents to know the login information of their child’s account. The company also says that, as a security feature, you can only be logged into one account on your device at any time. And, if you try to log into your child’s account on another device, the app will reset on your teen’s device and clear all history, which is likely the opposite of what you originally intended to do.

Know, too, that there are ways your child could blur out messages from unknown senders, which would later appear if your child responds.

Look

Look has many of the same features as Kik, meaning it will also cause similar concerns. Unlike Kik, though, Look has no filters, so users can easily run into explicit content. 

Whisper

This app also lets users remain anonymous as they share secrets or confessionals paired with an image; other users can then like, comment and share. Whisper provides geographic locations to help connect users to others in their area. This could also mean that strangers could connect with your child. 

Twitch

A gamers’ app, Twitch livestreams users playing video games. Often, the users who are livestreaming their game will add color commentary. It’s through the game itself and the commentary that children may be exposed to mature or explicit language or images. Your child can also choose to livestream himself or herself playing a game, which could also open up the field to cyberbullying or negative comments. 

Discord

Discord is a voice, video and text chat app for gamers and allows users to control who can message you, what servers to participate in, security and verification levels on your server and more. But, like most apps, it is what you make of it. For example, if your child shares his or her server name online, he or she may have strangers join that conversation. Or, your child can see mature content if you haven’t fiddled with privacy settings.

Calculator+

Known as a “vault app,” Calculator+ hides photos, videos, files and browser history. The app functions as a calculator but requires a passcode to access these hidden files. Calculator+ and others like it are typically bad apps for kids, as it lets them stow away things that they don’t want you to see.

Now that you know some of the popular apps, you can determine which are dangerous for your child and which are OK, with some set rules. If you’re still concerned, try some child safety apps that can help you learn more about your child’s online life.

Remember, though, that even before your child gets online for the first time ever, he or she should be equipped with what it means to be a good digital citizen. Setting that foundation will help empower children to use devices responsibly to learn, create and participate.