Learning more about the Apps your kids use

As I mentioned in a previous post about Parent-Teacher Conferences, I am in charge of Parent Education for the parent-teacher association (PTA) of my kids’ elementary school. And any time I share with the parents something of interest – whether it be a speaker, reading material or an Internet site – my goal is to share that information here.

Now last June, my predecessor brought in a school counselor to discuss Social Media. And while her lecture was informative, this Fall was a particularly busy time that I decide not to bring in a speaker but to do a flyer about Social Media instead.


The information for my flyer came from a website the counselor had recommended – SafeSmartSocial.com. I reviewed the site before opting to recommend it to the parents. On the site, they do offer a free Webinar about social media, but it turned out to be too much of a sales pitch for paid services and books they offered.

But the site’s Parent App Guide is quite helpful. Here you can look up an app to see if it is safe (green), questionable (grey) or dangerous (red).

On the site, you get a complete rundown of each app, including age requirements, how to install it, how it works, and how kids use it. There is a short video on each app to help parents better understand the app.

Green Zone Apps included things like Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. These Apps are considered safe for Teens and Tweens and are recommended for kids over 13. YouTube was included on this list but after talking to some parents, I am thinking that maybe it should be in the Gray Zone as there are some videos out there that are NOT appropriate for kids.

Gray Zone Apps included such things as Texting, Musical.ly, Pokemon Go and Vine. These apps could be fine for your Teen/Tween but the accompanying video spells out how these apps could also be bad.

Red Zone Apps include 18 apps that many high school (and some junior high/middle school) students are using. These apps – which include AfterSchool, Ask.fm, Ogle, Secret, Tumblr, Yik Yak and YouNow – are considered NOT safe as they are apps that allow users to remain anonymous. This can often lead to man comments or posting of things sexual in nature.

Now unlike my Parent-Teacher Conference flyer, this flyer was sent to the parents in an e-mail and also distributed via Social Media. I did worry a little that it wouldn’t be as widely read because of this. I think many parents read the information that comes home in their kids’ backpacks more than they read the school or PTA emails that go out.

But because a lot of the information applies mostly to parents of kids of a certain age (junior high/middle school on up) and in an effort to save on paper, I agreed to let it go out only in an electronic form. We did also post it at the school. I can only hope that the parents who need this information the most did, in fact, view it as the amount of bad apps and cyber bullying situations will continue to grow.

Social Media and Kids

Earlier this month, I went to a seminar about social media and kids. It was presented by a counselor from one of our area middle schools.

Now, my kids don’t have cell phones, but they do have iPads that have WiFi ability, so they could have access to some of these apps (though they don’t). Also Jase will be starting fifth grade in August, so I figured it would be a good idea to find out what apps and social media kids are into nowadays and what the dangers associated with them.

The counselor stressed open communication with your child. She suggested using the available apps and social media as a way to start a conversation about what they put online. You know…the whole “Whatever you put on the Internet is out there forever” and such.

Her recommendation was to allow your kids to have some of the safer apps but require they give you their login and password information rather than you just friending or following them on the social media sites. This way you can check to make sure they are behaving in a safe manner.

Good-and-Bad-Teen-Apps-Parent-Guide-300x169She put the apps and social media into three categories: green (safe), grey (could go either way) and red (bad/stay away). (I may have missed some in my note taking. She listed them by their icons rather than their names.)

Green Apps: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Linked In, YouTube

Grey Apps: Snap Chat, Vine, Personate, Facetime, Texting, Messenger

Red Apps: Kik, Yik Yak, Omegle, Whisper, After School App, Secret, Ask.fm

Many of the Red Apps let users set up anonymous accounts – which means users can post things without their comments being traced back to them. This often leads users into making mean comments (cyber bullying) or posting things sexual in nature. (Kik doesn’t even link your account to your cell phone number.

unnamedMany of the red apps are rated for kids age 17+, but that doesn’t mean kids younger than that are not downloading and using them. She also suggested checking their phones for a “Secret Calculator” app. This app looks like a regular calculator to friends or parents but actually once the passcode is entered it is a place to store photos and videos. This is just one way that kids get around any parental rules.

And just because you forbid them to use a particular app or perhaps don’t even get them a phone, they find ways around it such as setting up an account on a friend’s phone. In the speaker’s opinion,(and I agree with her) it is better to have supervision rather than no knowledge of their behavior. (In other words, allow them some freedom but still monitor their activities and keep communication open.)

Another way of hiding things is to have a Finstagram account on Instagram. This is generally a second fake account usually used for only close friends where users share funny or embarrassing photos. Even though Instragram posts only show for 10 minutes or less, it doesn’t stop others from taking a screen shot of the image and sharing it elsewhere. So if your kid has a Finstagram account, they need to remember that what is posted is no longer private. It can go anywhere.

Overall, the course was an eye-opener, and it gave me a lot of things to think about. Here is the link to her go-to website for staying up-to-date on the latest apps and their dangers.