The 12 Apps That Every Parent Of A Teen Should Know About

Huffington Post

Some apps just enable bad choices.

02/17/2016

ENGADGET

Not everything online is evil, nor does danger lurk behind every new app that comes to market. But keeping up with your teens’ and preteens’ online activities is much like trying to nail jelly to the barn door — frustrating, futile and something bound to make you feel inept.

Keep in mind that no app poses a danger in and of itself, but many do provide kids with an opportunity to make, ahem, bad choices.

1. Audio Manager.

Sometimes when it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s really not a duck. Such is the case with Audio Manager, an app that has nothing to do with managing your teen’s music files or controlling the volume on his smartphone and everything to do with him hiding things like nude photos from you. It’s one of the top apps for hiding other apps.

Yes, there are such things. Kids can hide any app they don’t want you to see, Teen Safe says. When you press and hold the Audio Manager app, a lock screen is revealed — behind which users can hide messages, photos, videos, and other apps.

2. Calculator%.

Same deal, but this time with a calculator icon posing as something it isn’t. Sedgrid Lewis, online safety expert, notes that these apps look like a normal calculator app but when teens push a button within the app they can hide all inappropriate pictures. “It’s a key way teens are hiding their nude pictures from their parents,” said Lewis.

Lewis says the best way to solve this situation is for parents to add their teen to their iCloud account. That way, whenever a new app is downloaded by the teen, it will automatically download to the parent’s phone as well.

Think it’s not serious? Last fall, there was a headline-making case in a Colorado high school where teens used apps to hide a huge sexting ring from parents and school officials. And an Alabama district attorney, Pamela Casey, posted the video below to warn parents about the Calculator% app.

3. Vaulty.

Vaulty will not only store photos and videos away from parental spying eyes, but it also will snap a photo of anyone who tries to access the “vault” with the wrong password. Parents who find it on their teens’ phones can conclude just one thing: Your kid is hiding things from you.

4. Snapchat.

OK, so you’ve undoubtedly heard of Snapchat, an app that allows you to send a photo or video from your phone and determine how long the person on the other end can see the image until it self-destructs. But what you probably didn’t know is that a lot of images from Snapchat are regularly posted to revenge porn sites, called “snap porn.”

Snapchat may not be the #1 app used for sexting but that’s not to say it isn’t theprincipal appeal of the app for many: Users think their snaps will disappear and they are wrong. It’s actually pretty easy to recover a Snap, take a screenshot of it and share it with others — and by others, we mean porn sites. No parent wants to find a photo of their teen daughter or son on sites like snapperparty or sexting forum.

Not for nothing, Snapchat last year published a “Snapchat Safety Center” reminding kids that nude pictures were not allowed. “Don’t use Snapchat for any illegal shenanigans and if you’re under 18 or are Snapping with someone who might be: Keep your clothes on!” the company wrote.

The reality is, Snapchat is likely on your kid’s phone. The best control you have (besides taking the phone away) is to just have a frank heart-to-heart about how there is no such thing as texts or photos that disappear and this is some down-and-dirty stuff that can come back to haunt them.

PETER BYRNE/PA ARCHIVE

 5. Burn Note.

Like Snapchat, Burn Note is a messaging app that erases messages after a set period of time. Unlike Snapchat, this one is for text messages only, not photos or videos. Burn Note’s display system shows just one word at a time, adding a sense of secrecy to the messages. Again, by promising a complete delete, kids could feel more comfortable revealing more than what they would do otherwise. And again, capturing a screenshot so that the message can be shared and lives forever, may be the app’s Achilles’ heel.

Even if your kid doesn’t have the app and has no interest in reading super secret messages, she could unwittingly get involved: The app sends a Burn Note alert that she has a message waiting. Curiosity can kill the cat and an app like this could encourage cyberbullying when kids feel they can get away with things because there will be no record of it.

BURN NOTE

6. Line.

This is a real up-and-coming app, says online safety expert Lewis. It’s an all-in-one mobile hub for chatting, sharing photos and videos; free texting and video calls too. But the devil is in the details. Things can get dicey with the hidden chat feature; users can decide how long their messages can last (two seconds or a week). But the biggest shock may come to your credit card: Your kid can rack up some hefty in-app charges on Line as well. While the app says that minors need their parents’ permission to use it, there is no monitoring to ensure this takes place.

Bottom line: If your kid doesn’t have a credit card number, you are controlling access to his in-app purchases.

 

7. Omegle.

Omegle provides users with a chance to converse online with random strangers. Is there anything that strikes fear into a parent’s heart faster than that sentence?

We turn to our friends at Common Sense Media for this review: “Parents need to know that Omegle is an anonymous chat client with which users discuss anything they’d like. This can easily result in conversations that are filled with explicit sexual content, lewd language, and references to drugs, alcohol, and violence. Many users ask for personal data upfront, including location, age, and gender [ASL], something kids might supply (not realizing they don’t have to). Adults wishing to chat anonymously may find use in this app, but kids should be kept far away.”

‘Nuff said. And it took us awhile to find a photo with language that was publishable.

 

HELLABELLA/FLICKR

8. Tinder.

Tinder is a popular app used for hooking-up and dating that allows users to “rate” profiles and locate hookups via GPS tracking. It is too easy for adults and minors to find one another. And the rating system can be used for cyber-bullying; a group of kids can target another kid and intentionally make his/her rating go down.

9. Blendr.

Blendr’s 300 million users meet new people through GPS location services. You can message, exchange photos and videos, and rate the “hotness” of other users (encouraging your kid to engage in superficial values at best). But since there are no authentication requirements, sexual predators can contact minors and minors can hook up with adults — and of course there is the sexting, notes ForEveryMom.com.

10.
KiK Messenger.

KiK is an instant messaging app that lets users exchange videos, photos and sketches. Users can also create gifs. All well and good so far. Unfortunately, the term “sext buddy” has been replaced with “KiK buddy.” Sex researcher Megan Maas, wrote on ForEveryMom.com that kids are using Reddit and other forums to place classified ads for sex by giving out their KiK usernames. KiK does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, thus making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.

ROSS LAROCCO/FLICKR

 

11.  Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is the “Twitter meets Reddit” app. It allows users to post text-only “Yaks” of up to 200 characters that can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking. The issue is that these other users are regularly exposed to a barage of sexually explicit content, profanity and even personal attacks– anonymously, of course. It’s also the app du jour for sending a bomb threat to your school.  Yes, that has happened.

Elizabeth Long, an Atlanta teenager who was encouraged on Yik Yak to try harder to kill herself after her attempted suicide failed, led a Change.org drive to shut the app down. She wrote, “With the shield of anonymity, users [of Yik Yak] have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves — and all of these things are happening.”

12. Ask.fm.

This is one of the most popular social networking sites that is almost exclusively used by kids. It is a Q&A site where users can ask other users questions anonymously. The problem is that kids sometimes target one person and the questions get nasty. It is cyberbullying with no chance of ever getting caught. Ask.fm had been associated with nine documented cases of suicide in the U.S. and the U.K. through 2012. In 2014, its new owners pledged to crack down on bullying or said they would shut down the site.

Millions of teens are using a new app to post anonymous thoughts, and most parents have no idea

The Washington Post

By Moriah Balingit December 8
Millions of teenagers in high schools nationwide are using a smartphone app to anonymously share their deepest anxieties, secret crushes, vulgar assessments of their classmates and even violent threats, all without adults being able to look in.

The After School app has exploded in popularity this school year and is now on more than 22,300 high school campuses, according to its creators. Because it is designed to be accessible only to teenagers, many parents and administrators have not known anything about it.

Envisioned as a safe space for high schoolers to discuss sensitive issues without having to reveal their names, After School has in some cases become a vehicle for bullying, crude observations and alleged criminal activity, all under a cloak of secrecy. Similar to Yik Yak — an open app that has become popular on college campuses — After School allows teens to post comments and images on message boards associated with individual high school campuses but carries nothing identifying the students who post there.

“At first it was people saying nice things and complimenting others, and then it turned into bullying,” said Mya Bianchi, a 15-year-old who attends Ionia High School in central Michigan. Mya said a user posted her phone number along with instructions to contact her for photos, a message that was punctuated by a winking smiley face and icons of a camera and a bikini. After receiving harassing messages, she had to change her number.

“After School” is a social media app that allows teens to post anonymously on message boards closed to adults and provides a space to ask difficult questions without revealing their identities. This video describes safety features the app’s creators added following criticism that it allowed students to post bullying messages as well as threats. (After School)
Her mother, Carrie Bunting, said Mya was “freaked out” to be getting messages from unknown numbers. It also irked Bunting.

“They’re underage children,” Bunting said. “I don’t feel like there should be something that excludes parents.”

Cyberbullying has been around nearly as long as the Internet, and teens have taken conflicts and taunts to social media on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as via text messages. The real-life people behind those digital missives are usually known; on After School, users are anonymous, and some say that has enabled and even encouraged cruelty and threatening behavior.
After School limits its audience to teens by requiring users to verify that they attend high school through their Facebook pages and by creating restricted message boards for each high school campus. Parents and others who want to access the app would have to lie to do so, saying on Facebook that they attend the high school. Even then, parents could be stopped by an algorithm that aims to block people from posing as high school students.
Popular here, nationally

The app’s creators declined to say exactly how many students use After School, but they indicated that there are somewhere between 2 million and 10 million users. There are approximately 55­­­ million K-12 students in U.S. public and private schools nationwide, with about 15 million in public school grades 9 through 12, according to the Education Department.

The app is extremely popular at high school campuses across the Washington area; at the private Sidwell Friends School in the District, which President Obama’s children attend, 119 students were signed up as of Friday. Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va., had 700 students who use the app; at Walter Johnson High in Bethesda, Md., 245 students are on it.
Cory Levy, 24, one of the app’s founders, said After School gives teens a chance to “express themselves without worrying about any backlash or any repercussions.” He said the app is a new way for teens to ask difficult, uncomfortable questions anonymously and to more directly address issues such as depression, how to come out as gay to one’s parents or how to navigate the daily challenges of teen life.

Levy said the product creates a much-needed alternative to Facebook and Instagram, where teens have grown up carefully curating digital identities that might not reflect their true struggles and anxieties. After School allows them to be themselves without worrying so much about what other people will think, he said.

“There’s a need for people to be able to communicate in a place where they wouldn’t be judged, where they could speak freely,” said Michael Callahan, 32, who created the app with Levy. He sees it has having “therapeutic” potential.
Students say that most comments are benign, and Callahan said problematic posts are a tiny sample of the millions of messages that appear on the app’s boards.

But there have been complaints about cyberbullying and anonymous threats on the app since shortly after it first appeared in November 2014. A month after its debut, a 17-year-old at Brandon High School in Ortonville, Mich., threatened an attack in a series of After School posts, including one that read, “Id rather take my AR 15 to school and practice on my classmates than to the gun range,” said his attorney, Deanna Kelley. He pleaded guilty to making a terrorist threat and using a computer in a crime and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Kelley said the teenager made the threats because he was upset about bullying on the app, which included racial slurs.

Protests spur changes
Students started online petitions asking Apple to remove After School from its App Store, with one saying: “with the shield of anonymity, users have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves — and all of these things are happening.”

Apple pulled the app from its store that same month, and a new version was released in April, promoting a long list of enhanced safety features, including a fast-response system that contacts authorities if a threat is detected. While After School has no information on the identity of users, it does keep cellphone data that can help police trace a post to a particular device. The app is now equipped with a warning system so that a teen who posts a worrisome message about being depressed or distraught will be sent a message asking if they would like to text with a counselor. More than 50,000 users have had text conversations with trained crisis counselors, according to the app’s creators.

“We wanted the users to feel very safe on After School,” Levy said. “We want them to feel like if there’s something that they’re curious about but they don’t want their identity associated with, they can ask it.”
Levy said that an algorithm automatically blocks posts with certain verbiage — like those that urge other students to harm themselves. And he said other posts are reviewed by dozens of moderators who screen for cyberbullying and harassment around the clock; users also can report individual posts to have them removed. Callahan said the bar is very low for what is banned: Even a comment such as “Michael is a slow runner” would be blocked. If they are aware their child is using the app, parents can now set filters to block certain content.

Recent posts to the app indicate that some inappropriate messages still get through, and students at several high schools said that bullying and harassment are frequent. Students — who shared screen shots from the app with The Washington Post — said they have seen taunts against others for being gay, people’s bodies being scrutinized, boys declaring which sex acts they would like to perform on specific girls.

One anonymous poster at Florida’s Yulee High School called a student out by name and then wrote: “I’d like to corrupt her.”

“I just think it’s kind of insulting, and they don’t respect people like they should,” said a 15-year-old girl who attends Yulee.

Threats posted
Last month, a user posted a photo of a gun on After School with an accompanying threat about something “going down” at Robert E. Lee High in Springfield, Va., leading to a police investigation. Lucy Caldwell, a Fairfax County police spokeswoman, said a student saw the post and reported it to school authorities, who notified police. Investigators never determined who posted the threat.

“Unfortunately, these kinds of apps are often used to create fear and disruption,” Deirdre Lavery, principal of Lee High, wrote in a note home to parents. “We thank you for working with us to discourage our students from using these apps to cause concern for our students and our families.”

Police in Warren, Mass., on Monday charged an 18-year-old senior with making a threat via After School, saying the teenager admitted to posting a message that read: “For all those who enjoy living . . . don’t go to school tomorrow ;),” according to Officer Jeffrey Von Dauber.
Quaboag Regional Middle High School was then put on high alert, and just about 20 percent of the school’s students showed up for class the next day as police worked closely with After School to trace the threat to the student using cellphone data, police said.

Nicole Deaton is a senior at Brandon High School in Michigan, where memories of the day when students were too scared to show up at school because of the threat posted by their classmate are still fresh. Deaton said the app remains popular — more than 725 students at her school are signed up — and many of the posts reflect tortured teenage romantics and secret admirers.

“Most of it is not bad at all,” Deaton said.

Levy and Callahan said that the rare threats they have seen are against the terms of their app’s user agreement, meaning that anyone posting a threat on After School is violating those rules and possibly committing a crime. They said they are dedicated to school safety and see their app as a venue for important discussion; they have helped authorities when posts have crossed the line, using cellphone data to track users in cases of alleged crimes.

“We all need to work together to end school violence,” Callahan said. “We are all on the same team, the parents, the school and us. We are all trying to make positive impacts on the lives of teens.”

Mark Sale, principal at Swain County High School in rural North Carolina, said After School arrived on his campus sometime last month, and administrators immediately scheduled an assembly to warn students of its potential dangers. His hands already are tied when it comes to social media, because he can only discipline a student for conduct online while at school or in a school activity. After School poses a new challenge because Sale doesn’t know which student is saying what.

Just last week, an anonymous poster made cruel remarks about a student’s appearance, prompting a call from the girl’s distraught mother. Sale wants to protect his students, but he said he can’t track the app’s use, can’t stop students from using it and said he has one perplexing question: “What can I do about this?”
Moriah Balingit writes about education for the Post.

Yik Yak Not Appropriate for Kids

Common Sense Media

 

Parents need to know that Yik Yak is a free, local social-networking app that lets users post “anything and everything” anonymously, including a lot of explicit content that’s clearly not for kids. Yik Yak users post brief, Twitter-like comments, which are distributed to any 500 people using Yik Yak closest to them geographically (or more than 500 people, with in-app purchase). Yik Yak works via GPS to identify where the user is each time he or she opens the app and posts messages (called “yaks”) to other nearby users. People read and “upvote” or “downvote” other people’s posts to rate them. Message content ranges from simple questions (“Where are all the spring breakers?”), personal opinions, and local information, to negative messages aimed at specific people, sexually explicit messages, and posts about seeking or using drugs and alcohol. Unless the user’s location is toggled off for each post, it can be seen by others. According to Yik Yak‘s terms, users must be at least 17, although there’s no age verification on the app itself (there’s an initial content warning on the iTunes App Store that requires users to confirm that they’re 17 by tapping OK; there’s no verification or warning on Android devices). Bottom line: Yik Yak is not appropriate for kids.

15 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to Beyond Facebook

Next-generation apps that let users text, video-chat, shop, and share their pics and videos are attracting teens like catnip.

Kelly Schryver  Categories: Social Media

Are teens totally over Facebook? Or are they using it even more than ever? Recent reports go back and forth on teens’ favorite digital hangout, but the fact is that the days of a one-stop shop for all social-networking needs are over. Instead, teens are dividing their attention between an array of apps and tools that let them write, share, video-chat, and even shop for the latest trends.

You don’t need to know the ins and outs of every app and site that’s “hot” right now (and frankly, if you did, they wouldn’t be trendy anymore). But knowing the basics — what they are, why they’re popular, and what problems can crop up when they’re not used responsibly — can make the difference between a positive and a negative experience for your kid.


15 Social Media Tools Parents Need to Know About Now

Twitter
Instagram
Snapchat
Tumblr
Google+
Vine
Wanelo
Kik Messenger
Ooovoo
Ask.fm
Yik Yak
WhatsApp
Omegle
Yo.
Whisper


1. Twitter is a microblogging site that allows users to post brief, 140-character messages — called “tweets” — and follow other users’ activities.

Why it’s popular
Teens like using it to share quick tidbits about their lives with friends. It’s also great for keeping up with what’s going on in the world — breaking news, celebrity gossip, etc.

What parents need to know

  • Public tweets are the norm for teens. Though you can choose to keep your tweets private, most teens report having public accounts (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2013). Talk to your kids about what they post and how a post can spread far and fast.
  • Updates appear immediately. Even though you can remove tweets, your followers can still read what you wrote until it’s gone. This can get kids in trouble if they say something in the heat of the moment.
  • It’s a promotional tool for celebs. Twitter reels teens in with behind-the-scenes access to celebrities’ lives, adding a whole new dimension to celebrity worship. You may want to point out how much marketing strategy goes into the tweets of those they admire.

2. Instagram is a platform that lets users snap, edit, and share photos and 15-second videos — either publicly or with a network of followers.

Why it’s popular
Instagram unites the most popular features of social media sites: sharing, seeing, and commenting on photos. Instagram also lets you apply fun filters and effects to your photos, making them look high-quality and artistic.

What parents need to know

  • Teens are on the lookout for “Likes.” Similar to Facebook, teens may measure the “success” of their photos — even their self-worth — by the number of likes or comments they receive. Posting a photo or video can be problematic if teens post it to validate their popularity.
  • Public photos are the default. Photos and videos shared on Instagram are public unless privacy settings are adjusted. Hashtags and location info can make photos even more visible to communities beyond a teen’s followers if his or her account is public.
  • Private messaging is now an option. Instagram Direct allows users to send “private messages” to up to 15 mutual friends. These pics don’t show up on their public feeds. Although there’s nothing wrong with group chat, kids may be more likely to share inappropriate stuff with their inner circles. Also, strangers can send private messages to users; kids then choose to open the message and view or discard the attached picture.
  • Mature content can slip in. The terms of service specify that users should be at least 13 years old and shouldn’t post partially nude or sexually suggestive photos — but they don’t address violence, swear words, or drugs.

3. Snapchat is a messaging app that lets users put a time limit on the pictures and videos they send before they disappear.

Why it’s popular
Snapchat’s creators intended the app’s fleeting images to be a way for teens to share fun, light moments without the risk of having them go public. And that’s what most teens use it for: sending goofy or embarrassing photos to one another. Snapchats also seem to send and load much “faster” than email or text.

What parents need to know

  • Many schools have yet to block it, which is one reason why teens like it so much (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2013).
  • It’s a myth that Snapchats go away forever. Data is data: Whenever an image is sent, it never truly goes away. (For example, the person on the receiving end can take a screenshot of the image before it disappears.) Snapchats can even be recovered. After a major hack in December 2013 and a settlement with the FTC, Snapchat has clarified their privacy policy, but teens should stay wary.
  • It can make sexting seem OK. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing inappropriate content.

4. Tumblr is like a cross between a blog and Twitter: It’s a streaming scrapbook of text, photos, and/or videos and audio clips. Users create and follow short blogs, or “tumblelogs,” that can be seen by anyone online (if made public).

Why it’s popular
Many teens have tumblrs for personal use — sharing photos, videos, musings, and things they find funny with their friends. Tumblelogs with funny memes and gifs often go viral online, as well (case in point: “Texts from Hillary“).

What parents need to know

  • Porn is easy to find. This online hangout is hip and creative but sometimes raunchy. Pornographic images and videos, depictions of violence, self-harm, drug use, and offensive language are easily searchable.
  • Privacy can be guarded, but only through an awkward workaround. The first profile a member creates is public and viewable by anyone on the Internet. Members who desire full privacy have to create a second profile, which they’re able to password protect.
  • Posts are often copied and shared. Reblogging on Tumblr is similar to re-tweeting: A post that’s reblogged from one tumblelog then appears on another. Many teens like — and in fact, want — their posts reblogged. But do you really want your kids’ words and photos on someone else’s page?

5. Google+ is Google’s social network, which is now open to teens. It has attempted to improve on Facebook’s friend concept — using “circles” that give users more control about what they share with whom.

Why it’s popular
Teens aren’t wild about Google+ yet. But many feel that their parents are more accepting of it because they associate it with schoolwork. One popular aspect of Google+ is the addition of real-time video chats in Hangouts (virtual gatherings with approved friends), and some schools may use Google Docs for classroom assignments.

What parents need to know

  • Teens can limit who sees certain posts by using “circles.” Friends, acquaintances, and the general public can all be placed in different circles. If you’re friends with your kid on Google+, know that you may be in a different “circle” than their friends (and therefore seeing different information).
  • Google+ takes teens’ safety seriously. Google+ created age-appropriate privacy default settings for any users whose registration information shows them to be teens. It also automatically reminds them about who may be seeing their posts (if they’re posting on public or extended circles).
  • Data tracking and targeting are concerns. Google+ activity (what you post and search for and who you connect with) is shared across Google services including Gmail and YouTube. This information is used for targeting ads to the user. Users can’t opt out of this type of sharing across Google services.

6. Vine is a social media app that lets users post and watch looping six-second video clips. This Twitter-owned service has developed a unique community of people who post videos that are often creative and funny — and sometimes thought-provoking.

Why it’s popular
Videos run the gamut from stop-motion clips of puzzles doing and undoing themselves to six-second skits showing how a teen wakes up on a school day vs. a day during summer. Teens usually use Vine to create and share silly videos of themselves and/or their friends and family.

What parents need to know

  • It’s full of inappropriate videos. In three minutes of random searching, we came across a clip full of full-frontal male nudity, a woman in a fishnet shirt with her breasts exposed, and people blowing marijuana smoke into each other’s mouths. There’s a lot of funny, clever expression on Vine, but much of it isn’t appropriate for kids.
  • There are significant privacy concerns. The videos you post, the accounts you follow, and the comments you make on videos are all public by default. But you can adjust your settings to protect your posts; only followers will see them, and you have to approve new followers.
  • Parents can be star performers (without knowing). If your teens film you being goofy or silly, you may want to talk about whether they plan to share it.

7. Wanelo (Want, Need, Love) combines shopping, fashion blogging, and social networking all in one. It’s very popular among teens, allowing them to discover, share, and buy products they like.

Why it’s popular
Teens keep up with the latest styles by browsing Wanelo’s “trending” feed, which aggregates the items that are most popular across the site. They can also cultivate their own style through the “My Feed” function, which displays content from the users, brands, and stores they follow.

What parents need to know

  • If you like it, you can buy it. Users can purchase almost anything they see on Wanelo by clicking through to products’ original sites. As one user tweeted, “#Wanelo you can have all of my money! #obsessed.”
  • Brand names are prominent. Upon registering, users are required to follow at least three “stores” (for example, Forever21 or Marc Jacobs) and at least three “people” (many are other everyday people in Wanelo’s network, but there are also publications like Seventeenmagazine).
  • There’s plenty of mature clothing. You may not love what kids find and put on their wish lists. Wanelo could lead to even more arguments over what your teen can and can’t wear.

8. Kik Messenger is an app-based alternative to standard texting that kids use for social networking. It’s free to use but has lots of ads.

Why it’s popular
It’s fast and has no message limits, character limits, or fees if you just use the basic features, making it decidedly more fun in many ways than SMS texting.

What parents need to know

  • It’s too easy to “copy all.” Kik’s ability to link to other Kik-enabled apps within itself is a way to drive “app adoption” (purchases) from its users for developers. The app also encourages new registrants to invite everyone in their phone’s address book to join Kik, since users can only message those who also have the app.
  • There’s some stranger danger. An app named OinkText, linked to Kik, allows communication with strangers who share their Kik usernames to find people to chat with. There’s also a Kik community blog where users can submit photos of themselves and screenshots of messages (sometimes displaying users’ full names) to contests.
  • It uses real names. Teens’ usernames identify them on Kik, so they shouldn’t use their full real name as their username.

9. Oovoo is a free video, voice, and messaging app. Users can have group chats with up to 12 people for free. (The premium version removes ads from the service.)

Why it’s popular
Teens mostly use Oovoo to hang out with friends. Many log on after school and keep it up while doing homework. Oovoo can be great for group studying and it makes it easy for kids to receive “face to face” homework help from classmates.

What parents need to know

  • You can only chat with approved friends. Users can only communicate with those on their approved “contact list,” which can help ease parents’ safety concerns.
  • It can be distracting. Because the service makes video chatting so affordable and accessible, it can also be addicting. A conversation with your kids about multitasking may be in order.
  • Kids still prefer in-person communication. Though apps like Oovoo make it easier than ever to video chat with friends, research shows that kids still value face-to-face conversations over online ones — especially when it comes to sensitive topics. Still, they sometimes find it hard to log off when all of their friends are on.

10. Yik Yak is a free, location-aware, social-networking app that lets users post “anything and everything” anonymously through brief, Twitter-like comments, which are distributed to the geographically nearest 500 people who are also signed in to the app. 

Why it’s popular
Kids can find out opinions, secrets, rumors, and more. Plus, they’ll get the bonus thrill of knowing all these have come from a 1.5-mile radius (maybe even from the kids at the desks in front of them!).

What parents need to know

  • It reveals your location. By default, exactly where you are is shown unless you toggle location sharing off. Each time you open the app, GPS updates your location.
  • It’s a mixed bag of trouble. This app has it all: cyberbullying, explicit sexual content, unintended location sharing, and exposure to explicit information about drugs and alcohol.
  • Some schools have banned access. Some teens have used the app to threaten others, causing school lockdowns and more. Its gossipy and sometimes cruel nature can be toxic to a high school environment, so administrators are cracking down.

11. Ask.fm is a social site that lets kids ask questions and answer those posted by other users — sometimes anonymously.

Why it’s popular
Although there are some friendly interactions on Ask.fm — Q&As about favorite foods or crushes, for example — there are lots of mean comments and some creepy sexual posts. This iffy content is part of the site’s appeal for teens.

What parents need to know

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12. WhatsApp lets users send text messages, audio messages, videos, and photos to one or many people with no message limits or fees.

Why it’s popular
The price is right; for teens who have a hard time keeping within the limits of a standard texting plan, the ability to send unlimited messages for free is a definite bonus.

What parents need to know

  • It’s for users 16 and over. Lots of younger teens seem to be using the app, but this age minimum has been set by WhatsApp.
  • It can be pushy. After you sign up, it automatically connects you to all the people in your address book who also are using WhatsApp. Beyond that, the app often encourages you to add friends who haven’t yet signed up.
  • Kids may need some limits. Although unlimited texting may save you cash, capping kids’ communication can help them stay focused on the more important transmissions.

13. Omegle is a chat site (and app) that puts two strangers together in their choice of a text chat or video chat room.

Why it’s popular
Being anonymous can be very attractive to teens, and Omegle provides a no-fuss opportunity to make connections. Its “interest boxes” also let users filter potential chat partners by shared interests.

What parents need to know

  • Users get paired up with strangers. That’s the whole premise of the app. And there’s no registration required.
  • This is NOT an app for kids and teens. Omegle is filled with people searching for sexual chat. Some prefer to do so live. Others offer links to porn sites.
  • Language is a big issue. Since the chats are anonymous, they’re often much more explicit than those with a user who can be identified might be.

14. Yo. is a bare-bones social app that sends a short text message to friends and family, simply reading “Yo” (and speaking the word aloud). That’s it.

Why it’s popular
This admittedly silly concept has taken off big-time since the app’s release in mid-2014. Although it may not seem like much, this single word has the potential to let friends and family know you’re thinking of them and just wanted to say, you know, “Yo.”

What parents need to know

  • It’s relatively harmless — but watch out for hackers. The app’s simple design and explosive popularity has made it a target for hackers.
  • Yo. may be a flash in the pan. Although your kid may be obsessed with sending “yo” greetings to everyone in her address book today, tomorrow could be a different story, as apps like this tend to have a shorter lifespan.

15. Whisper is a social “confessional” app that allows users to post whatever’s on their minds, paired with an image.

Why it’s popular 
With all the emotions running through teens, anonymous outlets give them freedom to share their feelings without fear of judgment.

What parents need to know

  • Whispers are often sexual in nature. Some users use the app to try to hook up with someone nearby, while others post “confessions” of desire. Lots of eye-catching nearly nude pics accompany these shared secrets.
  • Content can be dark. People normally don’t confess sunshine and rainbows; common Whisper topics include insecurity, depression, substance abuse, and various lies told to employers and teachers.
  • Although it’s anonymous to start, it may not stay that way. The app encourages users to exchange personal information in the “Meet Up” section.

The bottom line for most of these tools? If teens are using them respectfully, appropriately, and with a little parental guidance, they should be fine. Take inventory of your kids’ apps and review the best practices.

Websites Editor Polly Conway contributed to this story.

A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt

Here’s an article from New York Magazine about social networking gone awry at Staples HS in Westport.  Warning, the article contains some graphic language.  Thankfully, we have been able to block the app from the CSH campus.

M., a high school junior, was rushing to class last Thursday morning when a friend stopped to ask if she was okay. Taken by surprise, she laughed and answered that she was fine. Continuing down the hall, she was met by strange glances and similar inquiries. She was at a loss. What had she done to become a celebrity overnight? It wasn’t until she sat down for her first period class that someone finally told her about Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is an application that allows individuals to post comments anonymously, essentially operating as a Twitter without handles. Sitting at her desk, M. grabbed a friend’s phone and began scrolling through a feed of posts.

“L. M. is affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

“The cheer team couldn’t get uglier.”

“K. is a slut.”

“J. N. is a fag.”

“The fact that O. P. has diabetes makes me happy.”

“S. D. + 10 years = trailer park.”

“Nobody is taking H. to prom because nobody has a forklift.”

“J. T.’s gonna get lynched at SMU.”

“How long do we think before A. B. kills herself?”

“N. likes the taste of thick pussy and wheelchair pussy.”

“99% of guys have tits bigger than J.”

“I probably heard about 10–15 nasty things written about me, some of which I couldn’t even finish reading,” M. says. “M. will let anybody anally finger her.” “M. gave dome for $6.” She had come under more intense attack than most students, but her experience on Thursday was similar to those of dozens of students at Staples High School.

I’m a student at Staples, too. It’s a good, medium-sized public school in Westport, Connecticut. We don’t walk through metal detectors on our way to class, and the main job of our school “security force” is to hand out tickets when students’ Jeeps and Audis park in staff parking spaces. John Dodig, our genial and openly gay principal, greeted my freshman class in 2010 by welcoming us to a school that was “different,” a school that rose above petty high school malice. And as a senior, I’ve found Staples to be a happy, functional, though complexly hierarchical place. The three most popular senior girl groups are the Bots, the Bedfords, and Acrimonious. There are Albone and the Rowdies, both popular senior boy groups. There are the Amigos (popular junior girls), the Cool Asians (none of whom are actually Asian), the Fairies (the soccer team, not the theater kids), the Players (the theater kids, not the soccer team), and many others.

Yik Yak arrived at Staples from Fairfield, the neighboring town, by way of the Dominican Republic, where students from Staples joined students from Fairfield Warde High School on a service trip earlier this month. Fairfield had already been rocked by the app. Students described a scene of pandemonium that eventually resulted in legal action against some who were charged with cyber-bullying. After the service trip was over and the volunteers returned to Staples, word of Yik Yak spread fast.

When you watch stupid movies about teenagers in high school, you roll your eyes at the classic fallout scene in which the hallways are filled with whispering students all gossiping about the same thing. This was exactly what Thursday afternoon looked like at Staples. “Walking through the hallways, everyone was staring at their phones,” says one target. In the course of a few periods, the most private, deplorable thoughts of the Staples student body had been put into writing. And the worst part was that no one knew who was writing this stuff — maybe the asshole you’d expect it from, or maybe the quiet girl in the back of Spanish class.

In the period after lunch, everyone was waiting for the next post. Feeds were refreshed; new batches of unsigned obscenities entertained the student body. “I remember sitting there in class refreshing the page, waiting for someone to say something horrible and awful about me,” said one junior girl. Ms. S. was fully aware of the cause for her European History class’s distraction, as apparently many teachers had downloaded and perused the app during their lunch period. With each post, another girl left class to cry in the bathroom, vent to her guidance counselor, or drive home. “I was shocked, mortified, and embarrassed,” M. says. “I then called my mom and told her I was leaving school.”

During the last period of the day, a demoralized voice came over the loudspeaker: Principal Dodig had decided to address the school. Staples has dealt with social media explosions in the past, most notably the spread of Snapchat sexting and a Facebook cyber-bullying incident whose sexual depravity made high school boys blush. But I’ve never seen Principal Dodig as upset before. Between his sentences were heavy sighs and moments of reflection.

“To all the students in the school, I urge you at least not to look at the site,” he said. “I’ve heard several people today have read some things about them and they’re in tears. Don’t look at it. And if you don’t see it, it won’t bother you.”

His announcement gave Yik Yak new momentum.

“Mr. Dodig molested me with a weed wacker.”

“John Dodig touched my no-no parts.”

*

Yik Yak has been available for download since last November, and anonymity has existed since the dawn of the internet. So why did the app literally bring Staples to a halt last week? Maybe it was a form of emotional release for students who were beginning to relax after months of academic stress. Perhaps it was a way for students to get their bitterness out about their classmates, teachers, and administrators. Or perhaps it was simply the newest, must-have social media thing.

One student told Inklings, the school newspaper, that “kids are just mean these days, and they needed a new way to insult each other.” Maybe. I remember when Formspring and Honesty Box infiltrated my middle school hallways. But Yik Yak felt different. It wasn’t just a new tool for the school’s bullies; it was also an equalizer. No one was safe, regardless of his or her place on the social pyramid. Bots and Amigos were targeted just as much, if not more, than the gays, the fat kids, the nerds, the friendless. “K. sounds like she has a cock in her mouth 24/7,” went a typical attack on an Amigo. Staples Guidance counselor Victoria Capozzi says that one student, prior to finding himself the target of a homophobic post, was completely unaware that his peers even questioned his sexuality. Suddenly, the social 1 percent was subject to the same sort of cyber torment that had in the past been directed at the students at the bottom of the pyramid. Yik Yak gave everyone a chance to take down enemies, reveal secrets, or make shit up in order to obliterate reputations. You didn’t need internet popularity in order for your post to be seen; you just needed to be within a 1.5-mile radius of your target and your audience.

Over the weekend, targets turned to their friend groups for comfort. Group chats were flooded. A sample from one of the popular groups:

“Why am I getting ripped apart?”

“I feel like I’m in Mean Girls.”

“I was really rattled and red in school, I left for last period.”

“I cried.”

“H. will be forever known as the fat girl.”

M. still wasn’t in school on Friday. A senior girl who had also been attacked on Yik Yak told me over the weekend that she dreaded going back. “How do you look a classmate or teacher in the eye knowing that they might have read something about you? Or worse, they might have written something about you?”

Some students want to see the IP addresses of the authors identified. I would too, though I have the depressing suspicion that the students who wrote the worst posts don’t care about the lasting impact that they have had on peoples lives. In conversations with our teachers, guidance counselors, and parents, we constantly hear, “We didn’t have this when we were growing up.” Well, neither did we. Yik Yak and its capacity for anonymous, targeted destruction is new to all of us. By the end of the week Yik Yak had been blocked on Staples property, but it also had raised $1.5 million in funding. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a competitor to Yik Yak on everyone’s phones next week. Are we just supposed to ignore it? I see no solution in sight, and personally, I am thrilled to be graduating in a few weeks.

*Names have been anonymized, and one or two details have been altered slightly, to not make it even worse.