Remember when the only social network you needed to worry about was Facebook? Now as increasing numbers of adults have joined Facebook, teens have started looking for online spaces where it’s easier to avoid them – and their supervision. Enter mobile chat apps like Kik, WhatsApp, Skype, ooVoo and SnapChat.
What are mobile chat apps?
Mobile chat apps have features like voice call, video chat, instant message, and photo and video sharing which let users communicate. Some apps even allow users to do one or more of these things. Others have additional features like games and easy access to Web browsers or popular online sites. Users can access all of these features from within the apps making it faster and easier to share with friends.
Many mobile chat apps are free. Some, like Skype, can be used without a cell phone number. This is helpful for teens without cell phones. They only need a username, an email address and access to Wi-Fi in order to join in on the fun.
What are the risks?
Like social media platforms, mobile chat apps help their users connect with friends. But some teens may also use them to meet new people. While some of these conversations may be innocent, others may be sexual in nature and put teens at risk.
According to the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, teens that talk to unknown people about sex are more likely to receive “aggressive sexual solicitations.” These are solicitations that involve actual or attempted in-person meetings. For example, a 12-year-old girl was sexually assaulted after going to meet up with a man she met on the chat app Whisper. In another case, a predator used the chat app Kik to convince a teen to meet him at his home.
What you can do
Consider talking to your teens about the risks of using mobile chat apps and develop a safety plan.
- Know teens’ usernames and passwords.
- Talk to teens about not posting their usernames publicly.
- Know who your teens are communicating with.
- Go through the privacy setting of any mobile chat app your teen uses.
- Talk to teens about the risks of chatting with unknown people.
- Remind teens to not send sexual or other inappropriate messages.
- Monitor the messages and content your teens send and receive.
If your teens receive any messages that make them uncomfortable, they should save the evidence and make a report to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at www.CyberTipline.com.