Parents: How safe are the apps your teen uses?

Social media and technology can increase communication and access to a world of possibilities, but they also can contribute to bullying and dangerous activities.

Do you know what apps your teen is using? We’ve created a list of four of the most popular apps parents should understand.

Instagram

Rated 8 out of 10 on safety

Instagram is a social networking app designed for users to post interesting photos, videos and live stories with their followers. Unless the user applies privacy settings, Instagram profiles are public. If the user applies privacy settings, only those approved through a request can view the profile.

Others can search profiles via username or through the user’s Facebook page. Users should make profiles private and be aware of the location services function. The function tags images with their location, creating a way for others to find the user.

Overall, Instagram can be a safe social channel if used wisely.

TikTok

Rated 8 out of 10 on safety

TikTok is an application that allows users to watch, create and share videos up to 15 seconds in length. It was originally available as Musical.ly in the U.S. before merging with TikTok. Users often use the app to lip-sync popular songs and share with their followers, or cross-upload to other social networks. Many teens post their videos to Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or WhatsApp.

TikTok offers privacy and security settings, but they must be selected; otherwise profiles are public by default. Once privacy settings are updated, only followers can view a user’s video uploads. If a user has a public profile, anyone signed into the TikTok app can view that user’s public videos. Only approved followers can send that user a message, however. Even with a private TikTok account, a person’s profile information — including profile photo, username and bio — will be visible to all users.

In the app, users can send texts and voice messages, host group chats, have voice and video calls, and share documents. Users can access the application and all services via mobile and desktop.

In February 2019, TikTok paid $5.7 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allegationthat the company illegally collected personal information from children. This was the largest civil penalty obtained by the FTC in a children’s privacy case. Legally, users must be at least 13 years old to download the application. According to TikTok’s site for parents, if you learn that your child under the age of 13 has registered for a TikTok account, you can alert TikTok to take your child’s account down.

Overall, TikTok has improved its safety. There is now a setting called “Digital Wellbeing” which a parent can lock with a passcode. The “Digital Wellbeing” tab has two settings, one to filter adult content — called “Restricted Mode” — and a time-limiting setting, “Screen Time Management,” that restricts time on the app to two hours a day.

After School

Rated 9 out of 10 on safety

After School, as described by its website, is a “private social network that allows American high school students to share and connect with fellow students at their same school.” Students can communicate while choosing to reveal their name or remain anonymous. Students can chat live with other students via video or text message.

After School is a social application that has partnered with organizations that promote courage, empathy and collaboration, while offering a safe outlet online for teens to reach out if they are in need of support or need to talk to someone. These partners include Crisis Text LineYouth Service AmericaDoSomething.organd Social Media Helpline for Schools.

Overall, After School fosters a safe place for students to chat, and its privacy settings and security features are more robust. It has a zero tolerance policy for cyberbullying or inappropriate behavior.

Spotafriend

Rated 4 out of 10 on safety

Spotafriend is a social app meant to mimic the popular dating app Tinder, except for teens to make friends. However, there is debate on whether this app is meant for friendships or encouraging dating.

Users who create a Spotafriend profile can swipe on others’ profiles, choosing to become their friend or not. Users who swipe right and “match” a friend then can directly in a message format and participate in the app’s popular challenges to inspire conversation.

Overall, Spotafriend is a bit concerning, as it encourages users to choose “friends” based on looks and age, which in turn could translate into bullying or other negative behaviors.

These apps, as well as 6 other popular apps every parent should know about, are popular among teens nationwide. Some can be used safely if rules are followed and security and privacy settings are applied. As a parent, teach your teen the safety tips below, and be sure to diligently monitor their social media usage.

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Tips to teach your teen about using social media and apps

  • Use social platforms only with a parent’s permission.
  • Do not disclose identifiable information, including address, city, phone number, name, school, etc.
  • Remind your teen not to post app-specific usernames on other social networks.
  • Encourage your teen to make a unique username and only accept requests from their friends.
  • Block people who are bullying or post negative, lewd or offensive content.
  • Teens should edit all privacy settings to allow only friends to receive or view messages, questions and the teen’s profile.

Tips for parents

  • Monitor your teen’s social media and app use daily.
  • Download the apps to familiarize yourself with them, and follow your teen.
  • Make sure your teen has only one password. Know what it is and keep it in a safe place.
  • Set rules for screen time usage and when technology needs to be turned off.
  • Set rules for phone use after dinner and before bed. Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness recommends no phones at night.

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