As parents, it’s our job to guide and protect our kids, and that shouldn’t stop as they get older. Tweens, ages 10 and older, and teens are still growing. Their brain hasn’t fully completed the growth of the prefrontal cortex yet, which isn’t complete until around the age of 25. That means tweens/teens are ruled by impulsive decision making and not in the habit of seeing the bigger picture in all situations.

Enter technology, cell phones, and iPads. “92% of teens report going online daily—including 24% who say they go online ‘almost constantly.’” “A typical teen receives about 100 text messages a day.” That type of behavior creates another barrier shading your view from the activities and interactions your child is involved in.

I am not advocating that you invade your child’s privacy. I would never encourage you to read his/her journal or texts. Having said that, what I would encourage you to do is to look for any red flags that tell you that you tween/teen is attempting to hide something from you.

The following shares some red flags that will alert you when, and if, your child is saying or doing something they know isn’t okay with you. If you see any of these behaviors, or apps, then you know it’s time to have a talk with your child to revisit the rights, rules, and responsibilities that go along with the “gift” of technology. Here is a guest post about what different apps do. 

What is My Child Doing With These Apps?
Written by Hilary Smith, March 22, 2017

Downloading apps isn’t new, but our kids are beginning to utilize and explore apps that are flying under our radar. In the beginning many social media apps deceive us with fancy filters, cute emojis, and disappearing messages. It’s easy for us to rationalize that these apps are benign and a great way for our kids to connect with friends and stay in the loop. However, apps aren’t always harmless.

In fact, 70 percent of our teenagers admit to taking precautions to keep us in the dark in regards to their online activity. This need for privacy is alarming, because we know that rates of cyberbullying, sexting, and online predators are on the rise. Many of us might be surprised at the amount of inappropriate content and dangers lurking on the apps our teens are embracing.

4 Popular Ways Kids Hide Texts From Us

● Deleting browser histories and/or erasing messages.

● Lowering screen brightness to make it more difficult for parents to read over their shoulder.

● Using “fake” social media accounts so parents don’t read what they’re actually saying.

● Using handheld devices so parents can’t read or access their internet activity.

6 Popular Apps Kids Are Using

Obviously, most of us already know about Facebook and Instagram, but there are a variety of apps our kids have access to and we are none the wiser. Listed below is a quick run down of apps our kids are using and some common problems associated with each one of them:

● YikYak. This app features anonymous comments and uses location tracking to allow people within close proximity to see your child’s posts. Back when this app first launched it was a vehicle for cyberbullying, posts sexual in nature, and abusive language.

● Snapchat. This extremely popular app allows kids to send messages or photos that eventually disappear. Recently, this social media outlet has branched out to include “stories” which are basically timelines and photo enhancement filters. Users of Snapchat say this app promotes more authentic communication, because people aren’t worried about maintaining their digital footprint. However, the ephemeral quality of this app can be an ideal method to carry out cyberbullying or sexting.

● Slingshot. This app displays your kid’s physical location and relies on disappearing messages. However, it requires receivers to take and share an image before they will be allowed to view the picture being sent to them. This potentially can cause cases of “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours” to escalate into sexting territory.

● Whisper. This is an anonymous app that encourages users to post secrets and confessions. Even though some are hilarious or embarrassing, the secrets posted have contained inappropriate conduct, sexual encounters, and bullying messages.

● Omegle. This isn’t an app, but it is a free site that features an anonymous chat room for people to discuss any topic. A lot of our kids enjoy discussing video games, bands, and other relevant topics with like-minded individuals. Unfortunately, it is also known to be frequented by online predators or people looking for sexts.
● Pokemon Go. Last summer this app was all the rage and had people outside collecting digital versions of their favorite Pokemon. Although some of the hype has died down, many kids are still trying to catch them all. Kids need to be pay attention to their surroundings at all times, play in groups, and stay in public areas.

5 Digital Tips to Keep Our Children Safe

It’s important to note that most of our kids are safely using these apps. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for the multitude of users on the other end of the device. The following tips can help us stay in the loop and keep our kids safely using technology:

● Limit technology and devices to common living areas within the home. By doing this, we can keep an eye on what our children are viewing and reduce the temptation to misbehave online. As an added bonus, we are protecting our child’s sleep and offering them a much needed break from constant updates.

● Begin an ongoing conversation about social media and online dangers. We need to empower our kids about possible pitfalls so they can safely navigate around these online traps. Make sure you are aware of the apps and sites they frequent and who they friend online. Avoid lecturing and remember to listen to your child.

● Make sure they know social media etiquette and how you expect them to behave online. “The Grandma Rule” is a great evaluation tool for kids to determine what is safe or appropriate to share. If grandma wouldn’t approve, don’t post it.

● Help set their privacy settings. Apps are constantly updating their terms of use and privacy policies. Take a few minutes to make sure children are protecting their identity and location.

● Encourage them to notify an adult if they encounter something that makes them feel uncomfortable. This can range from predators grooming victims to cyberbullying and everything in between. By seeking outside help, they can help stop bullying or reduce the dangerous situations from developing.

— Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. 

I hope you enjoyed this guest post. I’d encourage you to listen and ask questions versus lecture and insist you know what’s best in the texting world of tweens/teens. You want your kids to come to you whenever there’s a problem, versus hiding the problem from you because they are afraid you’ll take away their access to technology.

Let me know in the comments how you keep your children and tween/teens safe when it comes to apps and social media?

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