Apps Parents Need to Know
Monitoring your child’s social media accounts and apps can feel like a full-time job. You want them to have access to their friends and their interests, yet you want to make sure they are safe and responsible. But when it comes to technology, it often feels like your kids know more than you do. So how do you keep up?
Michelle Icard, author of "Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years," shares insight on a few popular apps, and how tweens and teens are using them.
You may know about Instagram, but do you know about Rinsta and Finsta accounts? Rinsta refers to a “real” Instagram account created with the user’s actual name, whereas Finsta is an account that uses a fake name. Kids sometimes create both accounts, but their parents only know about the Rinsta profile.
“Finstas became popular because kids crave privacy from their parents and even the prying eyes of other peers,” Icard says. “Instagram accounts usually have massive followings, but Finstas are often meant for smaller crowds.”
Instagram now allows people to select close friends and post stuff directly to them. So even if you follow their Rinsta, your child may not be sharing everything with you.
SnapChat is one of the biggest ways kids talk to each other. Snaps are quick photo messages that “disappear” after being viewed. Kids use the app as a way to say hello without going deep into conversation.
“They ‘disappear’ so kids feel less pressure to be perfect on Snapchat, whereas an Instagram photo needs to meet a certain level of beauty or coolness to be posted,” Icard says. “Make sure your child knows nothing on the Internet really disappears. And be aware that Snapchat ‘streaks’ (collecting heart icons to symbolize who you talk with most) can feel as addictive as slot machines.”
Snapchat also has a password-protected photo album within the app that is called “For Your Eyes Only.” Parents should be aware of this feature, discuss it with kids, and make it known that they should have access to all their kid’s passwords on an app. Snapchat also has a private story function, which is a story only a select number of people can see. The user can select who can see it and who can't.
This app, formerly called Music.ly, is popular among younger kids. “It’s a way for kids to post short videos (often lip syncing songs) and it can feel like a playful gateway to social media. There is a lot to like, but also a lot to be concerned with,” Icard says. “Apps like this can easily include links in comments to porn. Make sure that if your child uses music or video apps, they don’t ‘friend’ anyone they don’t know in real life.”
YouTube is popular among kids. “They like the creativity of having their own channels and hosting shows based on their interests,” Icard says. “Again, be aware of parental controls and locking down views and comments.”
Apps exist to mask what is actually on the device, so kids can hide their apps from their parents. So, beware that what you see may only be a portion of the apps that your child has downloaded onto the device.
In the end, apps and the way our kids use them are constantly changing. That’s why it’s important that parents stay involved, monitor all social media accounts and have honest conversations with their kids.
“If you talk about social media as evil or unimportant, your kids could write you off as out-of-touch or unable to understand,” Icard says. “That's when some kids stop asking permission and simply go underground. This doesn't mean you should give your kids access to every app they want. Many are awful. But I encourage you to be a reasonable person to talk with about these things and not a dead end to their questions and curiosities.”
Meagan Church is a freelance writer who lives in Charlotte with her husband, three children and a plethora of pets.