Teen looking at the What's App on their phone.

What's Up with WhatsApp? Four Parental Must-Knows

by Screen Time Team on 10/09/2020

Messaging apps have never been more popular, more central to our social lives, or of greater concern. WhatsApp is just one of the many, many messaging apps out there competing for our family’s time and attention, but is it safe for kids?

WhatsApp: The Basics

  • WhatsApp is owned by Facebook but is separate from both Facebook Messenger and Instagram’s messaging platform. Facebook is planning to integrate these services in some way in the future, however.
  • It allows text, voice, image, and file sharing.
  • You must provide a mobile phone number and be over the age of 16 to use WhatsApp under its terms of service.
  • The service has over 2 billion users worldwide.

Is WhatsApp Secure?

WhatsApp has the distinction of being one of the few messaging services that offers end-to-end encryption for all communications. This makes it unlikely that any communications on WhatsApp will be intercepted and read or listened to by somebody unwanted. For this reason, it tends to be popular when shifting to private conversations from social media.

However, the app defaults to make all users visible to everyone else, which will need to be changed in the app’s privacy settings. It lacks any scheduling or context controls, which will need to be provided by parental control software.

It also has tools that will delete a message or image after a certain amount of time. This has been a particular problem when dealing with cyberbullying and other abusive situations.

What Are WhatsApp Groups?

WhatsApp’s most popular feature is its “groups,” which anybody can be added to by a user, and some of which consist of up to 256 users. Groups allow information to be pushed out to an enormous group of people at once. You are also unable to filter groups to only receive messages from people you know, so you can quickly be added to groups full of total strangers unless you move quickly to change your settings.

You cannot refuse to be added to a group; you must opt-out of the group once added, or block all attempts to add you to any group. Nor can you filter invitations or only reject certain ones. The best the site allows is to only let “contacts” add you to groups.

WhatsApp displayed on a phone.

Should Kids Use WhatsApp?

In the end, WhatsApp has many of the same concerns as other messaging apps.

  • Kids should be taught consideration of the information they share. What can somebody conclude from say, a seemingly innocent photograph sent to a group?
  • Leave the door open to discuss uncomfortable or scary moments with you.
  • Educate them on fraudulent news, scams, and other misuses of messaging apps.
  • Set schedules and rules enforced by parental control software to limit distraction from school, homework, and other times kids need to focus. Kids under 16 should simply be blocked from the app.

Messaging apps are always going to be at least mildly fraught, even for adults. Parental control software allows parents to better navigate these issues, creating a framework for when and where they can be engaged in a healthy manner. To learn more, try it for free!

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