5 Potentially-Damaging Apps & 3 Ideas to Help Parents

The digital world is evolving daily, providing young people with unprecedented access to a myriad of potentially-damaging online opportunities. Parenting in this world requires us to have an entirely new set of skills and strategies in navigating today's digital minefield, with no historical precedent to guide us through. App designers have become clever in attracting young people to their platforms/apps, while masking them as harmless or even useful, in the hope of preventing parents from stopping their use in the home.

Parenting a teenager has never been an easy feat, but in today’s digital age, knowing what your child is doing online has become almost impossible. With an increase of social media apps and the option of anonymity, teenagers are communicating in a space that has no boundaries, and leaving parents with no idea on how to monitor their child's digital footprint. In reading a recent online article I came across some ideas and information that I think could expand the toolkit of families as they navigate the digital world. I am sharing some of the ideas from this article with our community in the hope that it helps some families in their journey (read 'What Can You Do?' below).

Research tells us that many teenagers have an average of nine hours of digital interaction per day. That’s at least half their waking hours spent on various digital platforms.

Some of these digital platforms/apps can cause real trouble, and here are just 5 Potentially-Damaging Apps I have come across recently:

Yubo (formerly Yellow)– It has been called: “Tinder for Teens”

The video chat app, Yubo, known as “Tinder for Teens” allows users to create video group chats with friends and strangers. Teens can swipe “left” on a video to talk to any user they find and share whatever video content they want. An adolescent brain can quickly spot the potential benefits of this app, but they do not see the likely consequences.

Calculator% – Fake calculator and secret storage app

This app looks like a calculator on the phone screen but it’s a secret vault for users to store private content. Parents—if you’re monitoring your son or daughter’s browser history you should be aware of this app-in-disguise. The calculator icon appears to be an app on a digital device, but once a user types a password combination into the app, it opens up a location for secret photos and a private Internet browser.

Marco Polo – Video instant messaging app “walkie talkie”

Marco Polo markets itself as “a face-to-face messaging app for bringing family and friends closer than ever.” My family uses it. However, many teens use this app to send videos—while they are under the impression the video content will be erased after it is viewed. Like Snapchat, what users don’t know is how long the server is holding onto the private content and capturing personal data once they use it.

Wishbone – A survey app to compare anything and everything

This app can allow teen users to compare and rate each other side-by-side on a scale. Where most posts might concern pop culture, locations or preferences—Wishbone can be a harmful tool to encourage cyber-bullying amongst teens. It simply invites a teenager (who’s brain is still forming) into all kinds of unhealthy comparisons.

Whisper – An anonymous photo and video messenger app

Children as young as 9 or 10 are using this app to share photo and video messages or “whispers” anonymously. Though users have no personal identity or contact information in the app, they do have a username and can be messaged privately by anyone within the app. Since the app is anonymous, teen users are at risk to being contacted by predators.

What can you do?

Parents, teachers and other people of influence in young people’s lives can enable them to break free from the traps and temptations these apps represent. Some steps you can take, depending on where your son or daughter is in the digital age, include:

1. Get your own tracking app to see what they are up to.

We all want to believe the best about our children, but even the best, most respectful teenagers can fall prey to these tantalising apps on their portable device. CyberSafetyCop.com suggests some others that help you guide and guard teens:

Bark: Bark’s affordable, award-winning service proactively monitors text messages, emails, and 24 different social networks for potential safety concerns, so parents can gain some peace of mind.
Forcefield: Sleep apps on your kids’ mobile devices, see all websites visited and photos posted on social media, lock in YouTube Restricted Mode & SafeSearch—all from your own phone.
Smart Social – Parent University: They write on their site: “Our positive social media training videos show parents and students how to shine online. We make digital safety fun while getting kids to protect their online image.”

2. Talk to them about it. – Ask questions, don’t give the answers.

Sometimes, as parents we are forced to take a device away from our children, feeling they’ve lost the privilege due to their irresponsible decisions. Far better than taking a phone away, however, is starting a conversation about what they have done. For example, if you obtain a tracking app, watch it for a week or so, then ask your teen about what apps they use, allowing them to be honest with you before you reveal what you’ve seen. The conversation can be cautionary (if they’re not using any of these dangerous apps), or it can be corrective (if they are).

3. Create an agreement.

Look at creating a parent and son/daughter phone contract, that allows a parent/carer to put in writing the terms of use of the device. This is a perfect way to define how you want them to use the phone that you purchased, before they ever get it in their hands. You can also draw up an agreement even after they have been given a device. This can clarify your expectations about dangerous or damaging apps, and how you expect them to navigate them wisely. They get to keep the device if they stay within the agreed boundaries.

It is a journey many families are on and no one has all of the answers. Dialogue and scaffolding is necessary for teenagers as they do not have the life experience to know what the appropriate boundaries are yet.

Dirk van Bruggen