Apps for Teens
Your teen's nose is always buried in his or her phone. What could possibly be so interesting? Chances are it's an app that has sort of taken over your teen's life. But, do you know what that app is? Or that it may even be a front for another app? Maybe not.
From messaging apps that delete conversations on a timer to social networks focused on streaming live video, teens have an ever-increasing number of app obsessions. Sure, you might have Twitter figured out, but Snapchat, Private Photo or Yik Yak may be new to you.
Here are the apps you need to know about — and what to look for.
Hide It Pro (Free)
If you see a mundane-looking Audio Manager app on your kid's phone's home screen, it may be time to ask what he or she is hiding. We're not here to tell you that your teen is up to no good, but that Audio Manager is a front for Hide it Pro (iOS, Android), an app that makes it easy to conceal photos, videos and notes. The app locks pics and clips behind a PIN number that you enter after tapping and holding down on the Audio Manager logo. So even if you know the password or pattern that unlocks their smartphone, there's another secret code to learn.
Private Photo (Calculator%) (Free)
Calculator%, aka Private Photo, appears to be a simple number-cruncher, but it's another way for your kids to hide things from you. Users create a numeric code that they enter into the calculator interface to unlock Private Photo (iOS), a secret place to stash images. The app also includes a panic button that jumps the app back to calculator mode if a parent or teacher is within eyeshot.
Your kids are innocent until proven guilty, but something's fishy if they're using the Vaulty (Android) photo app. The Android-only app is specifically made for hiding pics and videos. So if you see Vaulty's red-and-white icon, it's time to start asking questions, or at least paying closer attention. Users create a numerical pin code or text password that unlocks Vaulty, and the app snaps a photo from the front camera if anyone tries and fails to open it.
It started out as a simple photo-sharing app, but Instagram (iOS, Android) is now the primary social network for many teens. Instagram also includes direct messaging, so kids can start conversations sparked by photos. Making matters more complicated is the Finstagram (fake+Instagram) trend, where kids create accounts under pseudonyms so they can post without the fear of a parent finding it, or a future employer tying party pics to their name.
Messaging app Kik (iOS, Android) gives teens the freedom to text all they want with any of their friends, and with 275 million users, practically everybody's on it. The app also has a built-in GIF search engine for kids to express themselves with animated images. Kik works with a wide array of add-on apps, including Match&Chat, a Tinder-like service that could jump-start your teen's love life. If you see this app, it may be time for "The Talk."
Tinder (iOS, Android) recently restricted its swipe-based, match-making app to to users 18 and up, but a change in policy doesn't mean its foolproof. Tinder automatically pulls your age from your Facebook account, so parents should still be on the lookout for the app, as fake accounts could place kids in the deep end of the dating pool. And there's definitely demand among teens,as more than 7 percent of Tinder's user base was under 18 before the company had a change of heart.
If you're starting to wonder where your kids are learning answers — incorrect or accurate — to life's big questions, they might be on Ask.fm (iOS, Android). The service boasts more than 150 million users and gives kids the power of anonymity, so they can ask a question without embarrassment. Ask.fm also lets kids ask and answer from publicly visible accounts, and follow their friends to see how they respond to queries.
Your kids may take forever to reply to your texts, but they might answer faster if you speak their language: animated GIFs. Giphy (iOS, Android) features a dense library of .gif files to copy and paste into text messages, emails and other apps. This way you can easily pull images that speak to the Game of Thrones fans in your address book or find the exact GIF to represent how happy you are.
Teens everywhere lip-sync their way to glory with Musical.ly (iOS, Android), an app that enables the creation and sharing of videos backed by their favorite tunes. You can either select your song from a file on your device or from Musical.ly's own database. Aspiring video directors can add filters and video, including slow motion, time-lapse and reverse. Not only can you be discovered by other users, but the app lets users share their video creations on other networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Vine. You'll want to keep an eye on the adult content and lyrics on the tip of your child's tongue.
Whereas most chat software allows only two video callers at once, ooVoo (iOS, Android) allows up to 12 friends to stream live to each other in high-quality video. ooVoo's PC client allows friends to video chat while watching a YouTube video at the same time, so they can react in harmony.
Yik Yak (Free)
Yik Yak (iOS, Android) is a bathroom wall of messaging, as every user writes with complete anonymity. This has led to trouble in the past, as teens can post whatever they want without being held accountable. While Yik Yak's geofences stop the service from being used near schools, kids can fire up the app the minute they're off the premises. This makes cyberbullying a real possibility.
Everybody wants to be a star, and Periscope's live-streaming video gives kids a chance to grab a captivated audience. Kids can save streams to their phones, and broadcasts can be replayed from Periscope forever, unless the user sets their videos to be erased after 24 hours. Streamers can select between public and private broadcast options, so more personal content can be restricted. Periscope (iOS, Android) viewers can comment on or like a stream, which opens a possibility for inappropriate comments. If your kid is Periscoping, we recommend you suggest that they turn off location services and never reveal the name of their school or home address.
You may have heard of Snapchat (iOS, Android), but it's not just for sharing explicit pics anymore. Sure, that may be part of it, but kids use it for sending goofy messages, including images and videos with bizarre filters and face swaps. Messages are automatically deleted after opening, and users are alerted if someone takes a screenshot of their snaps. Teens can also use Snapchat to broadcast a series of Snaps via the My Story feature that is open to all friends in their address book. These messages disappear after 24 hours. Parents may want to suggest that kids switch the app's privacy settings to My Friends, so strangers can't follow them.
Wishbone (iOS, Android) gives teens an easy way to take the public's pulse on an issue. It lets you select two photos or videos, and post the pair with a question to take a vote. You can follow your friends on Wishbone to stay current on the decisions they're making. Whether your kid wants help on choosing an outfit or deciding which pair of glasses to get, Wishbone makes it easy to poll his or her peers.
Spotify (iOS, Android) is the king of streaming music, earning its popularity among teens with its offer of all the tunes you can listen to, for free (with ads). Spotify's Facebook integration also enables kids to see what their friends are jamming to. You can take the ads out of Spotify for $9.99 a month, and student plans start at $4.99 per month.
The microblogging service, a favorite of teens, supports fan art, GIFs, photos and more that focus on some of kids' favorite things, such as TV shows, musicians, as well as new friends. Not only can you customize your own Tumblr page's design to match your personality, but the Tumblr (iOS, Android) app makes it easy to post your own text, images, audio and video.
It's sort of like tweeting, but with video. Vine (iOS, Android) lets kids record, share and watch 6-second video clips. You can stop and start recordings and it will stitch it all together for a continuous stream. Then the videos just play on a loop. It's become so popular that some of the most viral posters have become microcelebrities.
After School (Free)
The anonymous chat app After School (iOS, Android) isn't really anything to be concerned about. Not only does the social network employ human moderators who review content 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but automatic language detection filters out dangerous or harmful words and phrases.
Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector (Free)
If you've seen your kid staring at drawings of cats in cute outfits on their phone, they may be playing Neko Atsume (iOS, Android), a calm but addictive game. You start off with a backyard, a red rubber ball and some cheap cat food, with the goal of attracting and photographing feline friends. The in-game currency is fish left by cats you've attracted to your lawn. As you acquire more fish, you'll be able to buy more toys, as well as extend and remodel your backyard. Make sure parental controls for in-app purchases are enabled.