Momservation: Checking in on where your kids hang out on social media is the same thing as sticking your head in the room to make sure everything is still ok.
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Teenagers are a migrating herd. Like wildebeest following the sustenance they need to survive, young hipsters instinctively gather at the latest social media watering hole like their lives depended on it.
As these social media gathering spots ebb and flow in popularity, with older teenagers abandoning them for the latest over-sharing oasis and preteens rushing in with new-found access, any parent wanting to protect their oblivious migrators from predators (and themselves) needs to know the lay of the land.
As a mother of a freshman and sophomore in high school, I’ve watched (and closely monitored) the migration pattern of my children on social media starting in junior high. Sometimes I blocked access for a little while based on maturity level, but I came to accept that all these social media watering holes are what the modern form of teenage communication looks like.
So the best you can do is educate yourself if you truly want to be the game warden who keeps your kids from wandering off the reserve. (And get a screen name, follow them, and make them follow you back.)
It surprised me recently when some parents of preteens just became aware of sites like Kik and ASKfm. Since my kids had long ago abandoned these sites I assumed all kids had. I realized they never go away—they just attract new visitors stumbling onto the big kid playground eager to join the game.
So I thought I would share what I know about teenage social media migration because there is always a herd right behind the last one—and if your kid isn’t careful they can become a casualty of poor choices and bad decisions lurking in the brush. It’s always the weak ones who get preyed upon…
Kik Messenger. This is where my kids started in junior high. They liked it because it was a free texting app that you didn’t need a smart phone to use. They used it on their iPod Touch. Now kids would use it on their iPads. Like with all social media, it should be monitored because it’s the first forum kids (and adults pretending to be kids) will use to ask for nudes. My kids quickly moved on from here for more interactive apps once they got iPhones. Danger: KiK does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users.
Instagram. The first app I officially ok’d for my kids to use and by far still the most popular photo sharing app with teens. Where we passed notes in class, kids today use photos to tell the stories of their lives (at all hours of the day). Most parents feel safe with this site because of the privacy controls so lots of peers are on it. Giving out your Instagram screen name is the modern day phone number exchange. It is usually kids’ first exposure to social currency measured by collecting Followers and Likes. My kids still post to this site but not nearly as much as they did in junior high where they liked to constantly update their bios with latest friends, boyfriends, or girlfriends. Danger: Kids will post links to Kik, AskFm, and other sketch sites in their bio.
AskFm. I did not allow my kids on this Q&A site where users can ask other users questions anonymously. Straight up it’s a forum for cyberbullying. Kids like it because in this age of oversharing they feel popular when people ask them personal questions and cannot resist the opportunity and mystery of someone maybe telling them how “hot” they are. But for every friend who strokes them by telling them they’re hot, there will be 10 anonymous users who will say something mean or inappropriate. Users have the opportunity to block these comments/questions, but they usually get sucked into the bad behavior by trying to fight back with equally ugly language. The allure seems to drop off after junior high. Danger: AskFm had been associated with nine documented cases of suicide.
Twitter. I did not originally let my kids download this app even though I had long been on it for work. At the time it caught me by surprise that teens were starting to use this 140-character message system that had primarily been used to network or receive latest news. Obviously now, with its added picture and video sharing capabilities, this collecting Followers, Favorites, and Retweets site is the exact place for instant information and popularity hungry teens to be. I still think junior high kids should not be on it because like with other sharing sites, you will be shocked by the inappropriate things shared by their peers and easier access to finding it than on Instagram. But as long as your mature kids are educated on the dangers of leaving a cyber footprint that can come back to haunt them and always apply the rule to never Tweet, Favorite, or Retweet inappropriate content you have to cut the cord some time and let them hang out where everyone else is. Danger: Kids don’t like to use the privacy controls because they like the wide potential audience. You don’t have to Follow someone to see their posts. And that’s the problem—kids don’t realize that without privacy controls on ANYONE can see what they post and interact with them.
SnapChat. I fought a losing battle against this app that allows you to send a photo or video from your phone to another user that will “self-destruct” after a certain amount of time set by the sender (a few seconds to 10 seconds). I finally gave in when my kids were in 8th grade because along with Instagram and Twitter these are 3 of the Big 4 social media communication tools—used not just by teens but by the world (Facebook being number 1). Kids like posting to their SnapChat Story where a compilation of pictures and videos stay for 24 hours and all Friends can see it—and with all the tools SnapChat is constantly adding (stickers and graphics to enhance pictures/videos) it has become teenagers’ number one communication app. I’ve adopted an If-You-Can’t-Beat-Them-Join-Them attitude and actually enjoy seeing what my kids and their friends are up to because they post to it constantly. And everyone knows now that the pictures never really go away because SnapChats can be Screenshot-ed (or even saved before sending by the user themselves to their camera roll). SnapChat did add a feature that tells you when someone has Screenshot your picture. Danger: Unless they put it on their Snapchat Story or save it to their camera roll you cannot see what your kids are sending or receiving on SnapChat. You better make sure your child is well-versed on boundaries and consequences before letting them on SnapChat because this app is the ultimate form of a Trust Test for parents. The temptation is just too great to send and receive inappropriate pictures and it is the main tool for asking, being asked, and sharing nudes.
Phhhoto. I found this latest trend recently when my kids seemed to be migrating away from Instagram, Twitter, and even their beloved SnapChat. I knew they had to be going somewhere for their social media fix and finally found the teenage herd here: the app that bills itself as the next-generation camera app that shoots instant moving pictures you can share with all your friends. The novelty of it is attracting teens by the hoards. But like with all other social media apps, my kids are aware I’m on them too, I will Friend or Follow them, and I expect them to Friend or Follow me back. It’s the best tool for helping your kids make good choices and think twice about what they post. Danger: There doesn’t appear to be any privacy controls—people can easily go into a user’s Friends list and see everyone’s pictures (inappropriate or otherwise). It seems to be populated by the older teens and since many parents don’t know about it yet, there is a lot of risqué and inappropriate content being shared.