Remember when we worried about whether or not to let our 14-year-olds use Facebook?
Man, those were the good old days.
Most teens I know barely look at Facebook anymore. And, do you know why? Because old people (yes, people my age even!) have moved in on it. Think about it, when you were 18, did you want to hang out with your parents?
Not so much.
Every several months or so, Lovin' the Alien focuses on the latest and greatest (and in some cases, scariest) technology that parents of teenagers should know about. These posts always get record numbers of hits, which makes me feel like I'm providing a valuable service. (But, it's also a little bittersweet to realize that my readers are more interested in stalking and bullying and sexting than in my ever loving tributes to my perpetually harmonious relationship with my own always perfect teen.)
Sometimes, being a parent feels a little like being part of the FBI. Or the CIA. Or Homeland Security or the NSA. As soon as we figure out what's going on and who's involved, the game completely changes. Chances are, if we know about an app, our teens have already moved on to the next one.
Here are several apps that you may not have heard of, but might want to keep your eyes open for:
This is a free texting service that lets you send messages, photos, video and audio clips to friends. It's supposed to be for users 16 and up, but the people behind the app don't really have a way to police this. The app pressures members to add more friends each time they use it.
This app promises to let you "Broadcast, Chat, and Watch Live Video." Users stream content, comment on it, and judge it, awarding gold bars. By its nature, it becomes a competition to see whose live videos (often broadcast from a teen's bedroom) can get the most attention. And, that can lead to potentially dangerous behavior. If someone offers you another gold bar for taking off your shirt, maybe you'll do it. Well, you wouldn't. And, I wouldn't. But ...
This supposedly anonymous app lets teens confess their deepest secrets. It's like a private — but public — diary. Much of the content, as you might imagine, is dark, including depression, suicide, substance abuse. Teens are emotional beings and the emotions on Whisper run high. There are a lot of sexual confessions with accompanying photos. And, perhaps, most worrisome is that the anonymity is by no means assured. In fact, the app encourages users to "Meet Up" and exchange contact information.
This app makes me think of the game Russian Roulette. It's a chat site that matches a user with another user, letting them chat or (worse) video-chat. Most users are there to participate in some form of cyber sex; there are frequently links to porn and the language, not to mention video, is decidedly X-rated. What troubles me is that teens, who are hormonal and curious, may see this as a "safe" way to experiment. The fact that there's no registration required feels to a teen like it's safe and anonymous. As a parent though, that fact means no recourse should something unthinkable happen.
Perhaps the most familiar name on this list, Tinder is used by many adults looking to "hook-up." (In fact, it's a major story thread in the midlife crisis comedy Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce.) You "swipe left," if you're not interested; "swipe right" if you are. The trouble is, on the Internet no one knows you're underage. And, many teens use it to enjoy casual, no-strings attached sex — without a doubt, that's the very goal of the app (and its estimated 50 million users). While the idea of a teenager participating in cyber sex via a monitor in their bedroom is frightening enough, Tinder users make connections and then meet them in person. Imagine your daughter or son going off somewhere to have sex with a stranger. And, mind-boggling as it seems, they don't even think of the person as a "stranger" because they "know" them from connecting online. The potential consequences — STDs, violence, rape, murder — are beyond horrific.
If any of this is news to you, do with it what you will. For the record, I don't condone un-warranted snooping. I have given my (technically adult) daughter a lot more freedom lately. We took the parental controls off her computer; I no longer have access to her passwords or accounts. If she had a diary, I don't think I'd read it. And, even when I do have an opportunity to snoop (let's face it, these days, I'm the only one cleaning up her room), I resist. She has a right to privacy.
But, if I was concerned about her behavior — if I honestly felt she was in danger, I would break my own rule pretty fast.
Much faster than she could "swipe right."
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