Keeping kids safe online can feel daunting, but it’s especially so with instant-messaging apps. Which apps are the safest for kids, and what should you know about them?
There’s nothing that protects children online better than common sense. Teach your kids about the risks of the internet and speaking to strangers online, and make sure they understand if a stranger or a “friend” they’ve never met in person is making them uncomfortable, that they can come to you for help. Make sure you’re talking to them about who they’re friends with and what those friends are saying. Above all, listen. The more open your ears are, the safer your kids will be.
Which Apps Are Safe For Kids?
First off, remember that you can prevent your kids from downloading apps using a parental control app. Before you give your teen a phone, sit them down, explain the rules of the road, and set consequences for breaking those rules. And most importantly, pick one or two apps they’re allowed to use and block the others.
Texting: Yes, the simple text message is still popular, and often it’ll be where teens communicate most, especially as phone manufacturers add instant-message like features. Despite the dire warnings surrounding texting, it’s relatively easy to control compared to other apps, and easy to check on. It’s a good idea to set standards for texting and limits on who your teen can text with.
Facebook Messenger: Facebook is, by far, the biggest social media site in the world, and can be used by children as young as 13. Facebook is famous (or perhaps notorious) for its “hands-off” approach to safety and security. Any security is fundamentally up to you, so sit down with the parental controls for your children’s account and configure them to your comfort.
Snapchat: Snapchat has a lot of features, like the newly introduced “SnapMaps,” that can make parents cringe. But thankfully, those features tend to be “opt-in,” and you can, for example, ensure kids only contact their friends on the app. Still, you should stay on top of them and occasionally check their settings to ensure they’re not giving away information.
Kik: Keeping track of children on Kik is tricky, so much so that the company directly recommends that if your teenager keeps trying to use it, that you uninstall the app and block downloading it directly on your child’s phone. It’s not recommended for young teens, from a safety perspective.
WhatsApp: Despite being owned by Facebook, WhatsApp is fairly hands-off when it comes to safety. For many issues, including hate speech and propaganda, it essentially passes the buck onto the user, taking the unfortunately common stance that they just provide the platform and aren’t accountable for how that platform is used. There aren’t really any strong onboard features for parents, so it likely makes more sense to just ban it from your child’s phone altogether.
Remember that this isn’t a “do it once” type of parenting project. You’ll need to work with your child, listen to them, check in with them, and make sure they understand both what common sense and internet safety tell them to do in dangerous situations. For more help in keeping your children safe online, learn more about Screen Time.