Whenever we start talking about raising safe and wise 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 wise 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 have 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 and students 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 kid or students and thinking, "How in the world am I going to help them 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 and students 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 students and still required a lot of input from me.
- The fact that my kids and students 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 and students 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 and students about online safety and wisdom, 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 have all made this kind of mistake before, I know that I have. It feels overwhelming to say, "yes" so we resort to a knee-jerk reaction and say, "no." And when we do decide to let our kids try some new things out online, we aren't prepared enough and we haven't laid the foundation to be able to have the Ongoing Dialogue that we need to in order to keep our kids and students safe online.
I chose topics that were good for the moment, but didn't teach my kids and students what they needed to know long term, so this created more monitoring and maintenance down the line 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 kids are using it: You need to consider how kids are using apps, not their parents. What would happen if 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 kid's phone and inside their apps to keep your kid safe online? If you weren't watching, would your kid or students know what to do if they saw something unsafe on their 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 kids use? Do you know what to tell them about what is okay to share and post and what is not? Who it is 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—if you can't use an app yourself, then you can't keep your kids safe on it. I say this all the time to parents and teachers 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 kids safe online in these cases, you don't even own what you're telling your kids or holding them accountable to. I want you to use a system and process that is easy to implement and maintain in an ongoing way as your kids and students and their online use grow and change and that means that it is easy for you to fall back on no matter what new app they try. 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.
- 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 kids doing and sharing online. Have you clarified and communicated with your kids what you're okay with them 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 they'll tell you about things that can (and will) go wrong online, how they'll fix their mistakes, and what their consequences will be? If you haven't defined these things for yourself, how are your kids and students 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 our 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 kids get on Instagram comes from (I actually think this applies to all apps):
- Who they're following and what they are searching
- Who they're interacting with and who they're following
- And so much is going on in bio lines, 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 the 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™. We can't possibly check everything and for forever.
We have to teach our kids what's okay and what's not, how to listen to their instincts, and that we're always there to be sounding boards and to help. I created a free, downloadable, and printable guide detailing how kids are using Instagram. It's very long, very specific, and very detailed, and can really be used to inform what to look for and think about on every app: the input kids are getting, how they are 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 kids can share their thoughts, articles, photos, and videos in 140 characters or less. It is 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 that Pause 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 kids' online use gets bigger and wider and their digital tattoos get deeper! Note my use of digital tattoo instead of the usual digital footprint; it is 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 kids are searching (and receiving input from) by clicking into their hashtags or starting to type # in the Search field in their account or by asking them and starting a conversation with them about this.
It is 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 kids 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 kid or students start using Snapchat, it's worthwhile to take a look at who they have streaks with, how high their 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 you can use it to teach your kids and students what to do if anything like this ever happens to them or if they see anything unsafe online. And let's face it, our kids are LESS safe when we just say, "no" to apps or when we don't talk to them about how to be safe online and they're MORE safe when we teach them 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 kids use Ask.fm, I highly recommend that you do this and check if it is still set correctly 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 is 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 kid is using Ask.fm it is worthwhile to check on and discuss with them their anonymous question setting and if they have their Ask.fm profile linked or posted anywhere like in their bio line or photo caption in another app; anyone can contact them if they do this.
It's also worthwhile to discuss what kinds of questions are okay with you if they both ask and answer. Look at their interactions on there as well as their 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 a kid has their username set up, if they run into problems with someone un-wantedly "Kiking them," they can't change their 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 is not obvious.
- And you cant "log out" of the app either. So if a kid is being harassed on Kik, it is easy to feel like they 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 kids or students are using Kik, show them how to both block and start over with the app and discuss with them when they may want to do these things and remind them that they can always ask for help or advice; they're never alone or without your support and backup.
Maybe even brainstorm when might be instances when they should and can ask for help. It is so worthwhile to discuss with your kids NOT sharing their Kik name publicly and the kinds of things it is 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 kids and students, so we've got you covered!
Guards tend to be down in private messages like these so reinforcing these bottom lines is important. Also reminding kids that there's not a real surface and quick way to check if who they're talking to is really that person so it's up to them to monitor what they share and don't share consistent and within the bottom lines that you've taught them. 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 kids and students use because I can't find a single redeeming thing about them or a single good reason to use them. We have a full tutorial on creating an Ongoing Dialogue with your kids about apps like these as well as really specific guidelines for HOW and WHERE to check if your kids are 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 kids' phones. Also, check iTunes and Google Play for these apps, sometimes called "photo vaults." And obviously, we have a really detailed checklist of where to look on your kids' phones for apps like these in Raise Your Digital Kid™.
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 is 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 kid is using it, you have to be hyper-vigilant about what they're 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 and teachers, 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 our Bottom Lines are with these apps and what we want our kids to know about them!
This is why I included so many tutorials, checklists, and "tech trainings" 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 wise 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!
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AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. Best selling author, TEDx speaker, parent educator, researcher, mom. I'm going to help you raise and teach your digital kids. I've been teaching and working in social media for 8+ years. If you are so over vague, surface level online safety advice and are ready to actually teach your kids and students what they need to know to make an impact + raise a leader, we're going to get along just fine. Learn more about me here.