Whenever I start talking about raising safe and smart digital kids, the question inevitably comes up:
Here are my thoughts:
If you're here right now reading this on the Internet, then you are tech savvy enough to keep up with the apps your kids use and to keep your kids safe online. You do not need to keep up with every bit of minutia about every single app.
But if you're going to let your kids be online, then in this article I'm going to dig into the eight apps you need to know the basics of in order to raise a safe and smart digital kid.
I also have printable and super-detailed checklists about 5 popular video apps that kids are using. You can get them by clicking this button:
First of all I need to just put this out there: I have had my fair share of learning curves with apps. I have winged more than a few mini-lessons about specific apps, and I've missed quite a few important points when it comes to keeping my kids safe online with specific apps and have had to backtrack, retrace my steps, and cobble together what I wanted my kids to learn and even UNteach what I taught them in order to better REteach them what they really need to know.
I've been there, done that when it comes to figuring out what works to teach and what doesn't.
Right now, if you've never taught your kids the ins and outs of specific apps, I guarantee you that there are probably so many details and workarounds that you haven't even considered yet—and probably won't consider until you're in the thick of it with your child and thinking, "How in the world am I going to help her with that?!" and then, it'll feel too late.
This has happened to me.
But I don't want it to happen to you.
I will also say that NOT using this system from the get-go cost me a lot of teaching time and my kids a lot of learning time.
- Focusing on teaching the wrong things at the wrong time cost me time and learning.
- Over-focusing on app guidelines and rules as well as privacy settings and age restrictions cost me time, teaching time, buy-in, and connection with my kids and still required a lot of input from me.
- The fact that my kids were asking questions that I literally couldn't answer because I was focused on learning the wrong things cost me teaching and learning time.
- Over-relying on saying, "no" and assuming what my kids knew and needed to know cost me so much time, learning, and connection with my kids and students—I really regret this!
I don't want you to make the same mistakes that I did, which is why I'm spilling my Ongoing Dialogue™ secrets when it comes to teaching apps today.
When I first started talking to my kids about online safety and smarts, I didn't really know what I was doing (obviously).
I didn't know what my kids needed to know long term. I didn't know what apps would remain popular or they'd be interested in. I HAD to start with the ones that I knew and used and really focus in on these.
This meant that when it was time to teach them about apps that I wasn't as familiar with, I was cobbling together barely usable information or I was unnecessarily keeping my kids away from wanting to talk to me about cell phone use and social media use by saying, "no" when they asked me about these apps! This was CRAZY and I regret it so much!
I bet you know exactly what I mean. Most of us have had "oh no" moments just like this when talking to our kids about cell phone use and social media use. In fact, I just did an interview today where the host said that he was scared to let his daughter use apps like Instagram, so his answer to the problem was to say, "no" when she asked about using all apps. And do you know what happened? She signed up for Instagram without his permission, without him knowing, and so therefore, without his guidance!
She was not any safer by him saying, "no," in fact, she might have been LESS safe!
I think we've all made this kind of mistake before, I know that I have. It feels overwhelming to say, "yes" so you resort to a knee-jerk reaction and say, "no." And when you do decide to let your kids try some new things out online, you aren't prepared enough and you haven't laid the foundation to be able to have the Ongoing Dialogue™ that you need to in order to keep your kids safe online.
I chose topics that were good for the moment, but didn't teach my kids what they needed to know long term, so this created more monitoring and maintenance down the line for me and didn't help me worry less or, ultimately, keep my kids safer online.
Things you need to consider when teaching your kids about apps:
- How your kids are using it: You need to consider how your kids are using apps, not how you'd use them. What would happen if your kids were interacting in direct messages instead of in their stream? What if kids were connecting in an approved app in order to meet in another one? Would your lessons and rules still hold up?
- What's good about it: There really and truly ARE some great things happening online. Do you know what the great uses are and where to find them? Are you inadvertently and unnecessarily keeping your kids away from really fun and appropriate uses and great chances to learn, be creative, use their voice, and connect with their peers?
- What's bad about it: And on the flip-side, there are are, of course, some very real dangers online. Do you know what they are? Do you know WHERE to look on your child's phone and inside her apps to keep her safe online? If you weren't watching, would your child know what to do if she saw something unsafe on her own? (This is key!)
- Key things to note and watch for: This one is pretty obvious, but do you know the ins and outs of the apps you are letting your child use? Do you know what to tell her about what's okay to share and post and what's not? Who it's okay to interact with on the app and who isn't? I definitely had some very real issues with my kids and students having misperceptions about what a private setting on an account protects you from and what it absolutely doesn't.
- Where inside the app to click to see what's going on: Here's what I believe—when your child is just starting out online, if you can't use an app yourself, then you can't keep her safe on it. I say this all the time to parents who don't know how apps work and have to read surface blog posts or the app guidelines any time they have a question about an app. Let's be honest, you don't own the lessons about keeping your child safe online in these cases, you don't even own what you're telling your child or holding her accountable to. I want you to use a system and process that's easy to implement and maintain in an ongoing way as your child and her online use grows and changes and that means that it's easy for you to fall back on no matter what new app she tries. This is my criteria now for any app that I let my kids use—I have to be able to maneuver and understand it and have my own opinion about what I'm okay with my kids doing on it, and what I'm not. Once I know my kids have the underlying skills they need to be safe everywhere online, then I can loosen these reins.
- And this leads us to what is arguably the most important thing to consider about apps and kids, which is your unique and personal Bottom Lines™: What you are personally okay and comfortable with your child doing and sharing online. Have you clarified and communicated with your child what you're okay with her doing online and what you're not? Have you explained what the consequences are for posting, sharing, or doing something online that doesn't fall within your Bottom Lines™? Have you come up with a known plan for how your child will tell you about things that can (and will) go wrong online, how she'll fix her mistakes, and what her consequences will be? If you haven't defined these things for yourself, how is your child supposed to know and understand how to be safe online?
As you can see, discussing the ins and outs of specific apps is just one part of the whole Ongoing Dialogue™. I can teach you directly and specifically how to set this system up so it's less overwhelming and more effective. You don't have to do this alone!
Since understanding the apps that your kids are using (or are wanting to use) IS a part of the conversation, let's dig deep into the eight popular apps that kids use that you need to know about today.
Let's get right into my personal deck of what you need to know about 8 popular apps that kids use.
Instagram is a photo sharing site where kids can curate moments from their lives, highlight their creativity via photography and captions, and connect with their friends. Instagram is often the "gateway app" because it seems so harmless—just photos. I wrote a lot about Instagram use in Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to helping our kids be kind online.
There are several things to be aware of about where the input of information your child get on Instagram comes from (I actually think this applies to all apps):
- Who your child is following and what she is searching
- Who your child is interacting with and who she's following
- And so much is going on in your child's bio line, photo captions, tags, and direct messages.
So much of what happens on social sites and apps isn't obvious with a quick scroll. This is why setting up your Ongoing Dialogue™ is so vital and why I spend so much time on the details of how to set these up in Raise Your Digital Kid™. You can't possibly check everything and for forever!
You have to teach your child what's okay and what's not, how to listen to her instincts, and that you're always there to be her sounding board and to help. I created a free, downloadable, and printable guide detailing how kids are using Instagram. It's very specific and very detailed, and can really be used to inform what to look for and think about on every app: the input your child is getting, how she is treating others, and where to check for both of these. (Hint: INSIDE the photos, captions, and comments!) You can get that download right here:
Twitter is a social site where your child can share her thoughts, articles, photos, and videos in 140 characters or less. It's fast paced and a FUN space to connect with friends, strangers, and sometimes public figures.
On Twitter you can:
- Follow people who don't follow you (and vice versa).
- Send private messages, but both parties have to be following each other on Twitter for this to work.
- Search topics by #hashtags and tweet at a specific person or at a group by simply tagging their @UserName, also called their @Handle.
A few things to note about Twitter is that every tweet is archived and searchable for FOREVER (even on Private accounts) we have to really work on Pausing Before Posting that I go into so much detail about in Raise Your Digital Kid™. Do yourself a favor and teach this skill now before your child's online use gets bigger and wider and her digital tattoos get deeper! Note my use of digital tattoo instead of the usual digital footprint; it's much more permanent and hard to remove your online activity than the word footprint implies!
Also, many kids use Twitter the way adults used to a few years ago—to interact with their friends. They may share less content, articles, or links, and rely more heavily on funny hashtags and conversations. One thing to note with how kids use Twitter is that it highlights that they may interact with different groups of people on different social sites.
They may go onto Twitter to only discuss certain topics or to only keep up with a certain group of friends or topic. You can see what topics your child is searching (and receiving input from) by clicking into her hashtags or starting to type # in the Search field in her account or by asking her and starting a conversation with her about this.
It's really easy to set up a Twitter account and, like other social sites, this can be problematic with kids setting up fake accounts to interact with or harass others. Discussing this is really important, as is coming back to only posting what you'd be okay with everyone you know (and don't know) seeing.
Snapchat is the social media app that allows users to send pictures and videos that it claims exist only 10 seconds or less before "disappearing." MANY people have shown that not only is this not necessarily true in a technical sense, but in a really basic way, people can photograph, screen grab, download, or video a snap and it lives on just like content from other social sites does.
Some Snapchat details include:
- You get a Snap Score based on how many snaps you send and receive, how often you post, and how often you watch Stories, snaps that have been strung together.
- Your score can be found beneath your barcode on your account page. Kids check and compare things like this and the self-imposed pressure to keep your score high keeps kids engaged with their snaps and feeling badly if it fluctuates.
- So based on the above, you can probably guess this, but kids who use Snapchat regularly are on it all the time.
- They send rapid-fire responses to each other via filtered and cleverly drawn on or emoji-added selfies and really notice and focus on how many days they've been responding back and forth with someone (called streaks).
- If streaks are "broken" or not responded to, people notice. People also notice who you have streaks with, and who you don't.
- Kids also count how many views they have on their Stories.
There's a lot going on on Snapchat and all of it is discussion worthy. When you look at all of the above, you can see how you'd use what your child and her friends are doing to inform every single one of your Mini Lessons and every part of your Ongoing Dialogue! We talk about exactly how to do this in Raise Your Digital Kid™. If your child starts using Snapchat, it's worthwhile to take a look at who she has streaks with, how high her score is, and if anything dramatically changes with any of these "stats" for lack of a better word.
I have a personal story to share with you about a 12 year old girl who was "Snapped" by a TEACHER really inappropriately. Gross, right? But the way this girl handled this situation is beyond amazing. And this only happened, she was only this safe and this savvy, because of what her parents taught her! I wrote down the details of this story and created a free downloadable and printable checklist for you so that you can use it to teach your child what to do if anything like this ever happens to her or if she sees anything unsafe online. And let's face it, your child is LESS safe when you just say, "no" to apps or when you don't talk to her about how to be safe online and she's MORE safe when you teach her what to do! You can get that checklist right here:
Ask.fm, also known as Ask.com, is an UNmonitored site that is set up in a question and answer format.
This site SOUNDS innocent enough, but many parents have taken it away from their kids. Here are some reasons why:
- Anonymous questions and users and any type of content are all allowed.
- You can block a user on Ask.fm, but they can still see your profile and all of your actions.
- Anything that happens on Ask.fm can appear on Facebook and Twitter; they are integrated and Ask.fm information is sharable.
- There are no privacy level options for Ask.fm, although you can reset the default setting to NOT allow anonymous questions. If you let your child use Ask.fm, I highly recommend that you do this and check if it's still set the way that you'd like it to be after updates!
So here's the deal: The anonymous feature and the fact that you can't see who is following you on Ask.fm (you can just see how many followers you have, a number that's checked on regularly and seen as a status check) mean that kids who are bullied or propositioned on Ask.fm often don't know who is harassing them.
If your child is using Ask.fm it's worthwhile to check on and discuss with her her anonymous question setting and if she has her Ask.fm profile linked or posted anywhere such as in her bio line or photo caption in another app; anyone can contact her if she does this—even if she has a private account.
It's also worthwhile to discuss what kinds of questions are okay with you if she both asks and answers. Look at her interactions on there as well as her friends' to get a gauge and feel for how they're using it.
Kik is a free texting app that works with a username instead of a phone number, so even kids without phones or texting plans can install and use Kik.
Some important things to know about Kik are:
- "Kiking someone" isn't based on approving followers; as soon as someone has your your user name (friends, strangers, bullies), they can Kik you.
- LOTS of kids use the same username on every site and lots of kids write "Kik me" in their bios or on individual photo captions on approved sites like Instagram.
- Once your child has her username set up, if she runs into problems with someone un-wantedly "Kiking her," she can't change her username without deleting the app and starting over.
- It IS possible to block on Kik, but you really have to dig into the app to see how; it's not obvious.
- And you cant "log out" of the app either. So if your child is being harassed on Kik, it's easy to feel like she can't get away from it. Even if you turn off your phone, the Kik messages pop up when you turn it back on.
So if your child is using Kik, show her how to both block and start over with the app and discuss with her when she may want to do these things and remind her that she can always ask for help or advice; she's never alone or without your support and backup.
Maybe even brainstorm when might be instances when she should and can ask for help. It's so worthwhile to discuss with your child NOT sharing her Kik name publicly and the kinds of things it's okay and not okay to text or "Kik" someone. In Raise Your Digital Kid™, there are checklists and tutorials that walk you through all of this, with plenty of examples. You want to use the language and Bottom Lines™ that will work the best for your family, so I've got you covered!
Guards tend to be down in private messages like these so reinforcing these Bottom Lines™ is important. Also reminding your child that there's not a real surface and quick way to check if who she's talking to is really that person, so it's up to her to monitor what she shares and doesn't share consistently and within the Bottom Lines that you've taught her. This is a great example of how important it is to make sure that the door to Ongoing Dialogue™ is kept wide open!
And these last three are apps that I would NOT let your child use because I can't find a single redeeming thing about them or a single good reason to use them. I have a full tutorial on creating an Ongoing Dialogue™ with your child about apps like these as well as really specific guidelines for HOW and WHERE to check if your child is using them in Raise Your Digital Kid™.
At first glance, Calculator% looks like a regular calculator, but when you open it up and type in your password, it opens up into a place to store hidden pictures and files that can't be found elsewhere on your phone. There are many variations of this app, so, especially in the beginning, it's so important to click into EVERYTHING on your child's phone. Also, check iTunes and Google Play for these apps, sometimes called "photo vaults."
2. Burn Note
Burn Note is a messaging app that erases messages after a certain amount of time. Burn Note is for messages only (no pictures or videos), but do not let this lull you into thinking it's a safe app! To discourage screen caps, or proof, a spotlight-like system only reveals a part of a message at a time (In Raise Your Digital Kid™ we discuss why this is SUCH A BAD, UNSAFE THING). Anyone can receive a Burn Note whether they are signed into the app or not. So if your child is using it, you have to be hyper-vigilant about what she's doing on it.
Whisper is a free social networking app that boasts being a space for users to post pictures and share secrets anonymously as well as chat with other "whisperers." The "whispers" are text expressions of secrets placed over stylized images. Not only is the anonymity problematic in terms of bullying and rumor spreading, but Whisper also reveals a user's location which means that your whispers can show up in lists of nearby whispers and also makes it easy for whisperers to arrange to meet up and for predators to locate and connect with victims.
There is so much to know about apps that kids love and use! For us parents, it's the "unknown" that seems scary. Once you open up the apps and have someone walking you through exactly what's in them and how to use and teach them, it becomes very simple to decide what your Bottom Lines™ are with these apps and what you want your kids to know about them!
This is why I included so many details in Raise Your Digital Kid™. I want you to know that I've got you covered, and I don't assume anything. So if your kids are just starting out online or are about to be, I'll show you where to start. And if your kids have been online for awhile now and you're ready to know a few more "advanced" things, I can help with that, too.
Want my proven, step-by-step process for turning your kid into a safe and smart online user?
Note: Stay up to date on what apps your kids are using. The best way to keep them safe is to be informed and to keep the conversation open. Start today by downloading my free cheatsheets. They're so helpful!
AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.