If you have a teen, chances are, they've got a smartphone. (A Pew Research Center study found that 95 percent of U.S. teenagers have access to one.) And that means they've got access to apps, leaving you to figure out which ones they should be allowed to have. And there are very real dangers for children, such as a recent and very disturbing WhatsApp suicide challenge.
Some apps are easy to judge. But apps that communicate with other people can make it harder to tell where the dangers lie. Some make an effort to filter or moderate communications between users; others don't. Some let users stay anonymous, which can cause some people to say or do things they normally wouldn't, while other apps encourage (or even require) oversharing of personal information. And apps just seem to promote risky behavior by their very design.
Here's a closer look at some apps you should think twice about before allowing them on your teenager's phone, based on whether you should monitor them closely or delete them altogether.
There are certain things you should be aware of for all of the apps on your teen's phone, even relatively benign ones. Check the location settings on each app to see if your child's whereabouts are being broadcast, or just turn off location services altogether. (Here's how to do it on Android devices and iPhones).
In addition, check the photo settings on the phone to make sure it's not attaching a location to images shot by the phone's camera. (iPhone geotagging settings can be found here). And talk to your teen about in-app purchases. Often, they're designed to be small so that they don't seem like a big deal, but they can add up quickly.
Credit: Tom's Guide
Nicknamed "Tinder for teens," Yubo is a chat and livestreaming app where teens can make new friends based on their location. (Yubo encourages users to let the app use location services, though it's not required.) Minors are supposed to be relegated to their own part of the app with no adults allowed in, but I had no problem signing up as a 14-year-old girl with a picture of President Trump as my profile pic.
The Discover section of the app shows you pictures and videos of others in your area, and you can swipe right or left on each one. If two people swipe right on each other, they can chat privately within the app and share Snapchat and Instagram info. (Even if users are careful on Yubo, they might not realize how much they've shared on Snapchat and Instagram.)
The app also allows livestreaming that anyone, not just people you've "swiped right" on, can watch and comment on. While the app uses an algorithm that's supposed to shut down any livestream containing nudity, the very first livestream I clicked on had a user taking bong hits, and the next was mostly commenters requesting that the livestreamers show parts of their bodies.
An app that grants users anonymity, Monkey sets up 15-second videos with strangers. Users can choose which topics they want to chat about, like Roast, Single, Pet Talk, Stoner, Selena Gomez, and so forth. You can also filter who you're looking to chat with by location. When I turned on "nearby," I was able to see how far away another user was. (The closest I saw was about 5 miles away.)
Users looking for a similar chat flash on the screen for about 4 seconds, and you can accept or reject them. The user's age, gender and location are shown, but there's really no way to know if that's a teen or an adult. If you accept a chat with someone, the video chat starts. (There's text chatting too, which you can turn off, but video chat is always on.) Putting such a short time limit on the chat could put pressure on users to reveal something personal, and reviews of the app report lots of flashing going on.
Forget about the Tinder for teens — what about the actual Tinder? While the dating app, which utilizes swiping left or right to match people up, once flirted with a 13-to-17-year-old section, Tinder is now supposed to be strictly for adults 18 and up. However, there's no age verification required, so a teen could easily make a profile. A lot of people seem to think you need a Facebook account to sign up, which might give users a false sense of security. But I was able to sign up with just my phone number, and I could have entered any age I wanted to. (Alternatively, if a teen entered a false birthday when signing up for Facebook, that fake age could be used to sign up for Tinder through Facebook.) Once you're on Tinder, there's just no way to know who you're really chatting with, and if a teen is on the app, that teen is probably looking for a date with an adult.
Holla lets you video chat with a random stranger. It requires a user to sign in with either a phone number or a Facebook account. Once you're in the app, you can choose from some broad categories for your random video chats, and then start video and text chatting with strangers. Either participant can swipe up to go to the next random pairing, and chats can be rated by either user. You have to spend money if you want more chat time or only want to chat with people of a certain sex.
You never know what you're going to see on the screen when you go to the next chat, which makes this app very risky. And while Holla's terms of service reserve the right to review anything uploaded to the app, those same terms also concede that not everything's reviewed, and the app maker takes no responsibility for any content on the app.
Another dating app for adults, Blendr is designed more for hookups than relationships. It uses that swipe-right-or-left function to match you with another person, and you can set location-based parameters for who you would like to match with. It is supposed to be for people 18 and up, but as with Tinder, there is no age verification. In fact, when I was signing up for Blendr, the app helpfully led me to the birth year that would make me 18 years old.
In addition to swiping on images to potentially make matches, you can just scroll through people in your city and send them a message or request their phone number. There is absolutely no reason for a minor to have this app on their phone.
Whisper is a "confession" app where anonymous users post images with some kind of secret or question in the caption, and receive anonymous comments. Not only was there no age verification to use Whisper, but there was no registration of any kind. I downloaded the app to my phone and started posting — it is truly anonymous.
There is a language filter that is turned on by default, but I didn't even realize that the app had put my city in my profile until I checked it out for myself. And while the comments that flooded in on my one and only post were all harmless and supportive, it didn't take long (literally 10 seconds) for me to find posts looking for a hookup. Any kind of anonymous app is likely to encourage risky behavior, but Whisper makes it especially easy.