Y'know how everyone is a perfect parent ... until they actually are a parent? When we were "dinks" (dual-income, no kids), my husband and I found it very easy to pass judgement on our friends who had already taken the parental plunge. We would never let our toddler eat junk food between meals. We would never be bullied into anything by a six-year old. We would never let our fifth grader wear something like that to school.
We would never let our teenager have unlimited access to iPhone apps.
Actually, that last one wasn't on our mind at all. Our friends who had children five and ten years before us didn't face the same challenges we do where personal electronics are concerned. Sure they had PCs, but the whole smartphone thing is a fairly new phenomenon. And one that makes it fairly difficult (read, impossible) to assert any kind of authority or control.
There was a time (not so long ago) when I was feeling rather self-satisfied that my teen daughter and I were Facebook friends. Let me tell you ... Facebook is so yesterday! Sure, my daughter is still on Facebook (you sort of have to be), but her activity there is fairly superficial: sharing photos from horse events, wishing people "Happy Birthday." Her real life (well, her real digital life) takes place elsewhere.
Here are some of the latest apps that have replaced Facebook in terms of teen activity. If you don't know them, don't worry, your kids do.
Oh wait, strike that. If you don't know them, your kids do. Go ahead and worry.
Kids can post pictures that then "disappear." In theory, this makes the app safer than a more permanent place like Facebook. In reality, it encourages otherwise cautious kids to experiment with sexting and bullying. And, guess what? Nothing on the Internet ever really goes away.
This one's the same premise as Snapchat but with text messages instead of pictures. Same benefits. Same issues.
A popular messaging app with 120 million (MILLION!) users, Kik "lets you connect with all your friends, no matter how you meet them – at school, on your favorite social app, or in an online game." Your username can be whatever you like, which encourages anonymity (and all the questionable behavior that tags along with it). Since no one knows who you really are, it's a great place for pedophiles. Bonus!
Another anonymous site (do we see a pattern emerging?), Ask.fm lets users post questions and answers. Great for sharing information, right? Great also for bullying, unfortunately. Although the site is based in Latvia, it's very popular with teens in the U.K. And, sadly, there have been several suicides there linked to it.
Another anonymous site (yes, definitely a pattern), Yik Yak is in some ways even worse because it geotargets users. You see comments posted by people in your own community — in most cases, your high school. This "local bulletin board" brings the bullying right into your backyard.
I've just scratched the surface here. There are so many others (and, sadly, more being developed every day). Vine, Wanelo, Oovoo, Tumblr, Omegle, Pheed, Instagram, Whisper, Speak Freely, the list goes on and on.
If you have the wherewithal, ask your daughter or son to give you a tour of their smartphone. Then again, if they know you're coming, they can easily hide any apps they don't want you to see. In fact, there's an app for that. It's called ...
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