Perplexed Parent: What to Do When Your Child Wants to Use a Social App You've Never Heard Of
By Devorah Heitner, PhD
Raising Digital Natives
Perplexed parent: "My child wants to use tbh, Instagram, WhatsApp, Live.ly, Sarahah, Snapchat, Yellow, Kik, Musical.ly, Houseparty, Marco Polo, (insert latest, greatest app here). I've never heard of half of these, don't know what they do, and am not even sure what my yes or no means! Guidance, please?"
Dr. Devo: Yep, totally get it. You feel like a Wack-a-Mole trying to stay on top of it all! It IS overwhelming to keep up with. That's why I've made it my mission to be your mentor and guide and help you wade through the tech jungle that is your child's world. Next time you are faced with this kind of plea from your digital native, try these steps:
1. WADE IN
Invite your child to tell you everything he or she knows about the app and why she wants the app. (besides because "all my friends are on it.") What is the attraction to her? How will he use it? Is it a social app? A game? How much personal information is shared? How do people act in that space? How does it make people feel? Make it a prerequisite to download or purchase that you and she will sit down and interact with it – together.
Ask a local "expert" for advice. This can be anyone– an older kid, the babysitter, your college-aged niece. Find a reliable young person a few years older than your own kid to give you the down low.
Talk to someone like me. Or see what the reviewers at Common Sense Media have to say. Or ask the parents in your parenting Facebook group.
2. GO DEEPER
If you want to know more about what people do on Instagram, you can go to the to Instagram #explore and look around.
Try searching for monkeys, kittens, Justin Bieber or try something naughtier–what might your 12 year old search for? Yes, I know kids are supposed to be 13 to use most social apps, including Instagram, but many kids have Instagram accounts before this birthday!
Know what's out there, but don't assume that just because there is instaporn that your child knows this or wants to see it. Just because inappropriate content can be found on an app, doesn't mean that is what your son or daughter is looking for...but do remember that user generated content is not rated the way movies would be...and that most of these companies are WAY too small to adequately screen content.
And of course, you can always download the app and try it yourself. As a general rule, social apps that skew toward anonymity (like Sarahah, Ask.fm, After School, and some others) seem most likely to harbor mean behaviors. Human beings don't seem to do their best when anonymously responding to others.
If you are thinking about giving the thumbs up after doing research, here are some questions to discuss with your child:
- Ask him to show you an example of someone's post in the app that he doesn't think is appropriate and one he thinks is smart and cool.
- Work with your child to generate a list of do's and don'ts for the new app.
- For a social app, what is the criteria for connecting with someone?
- What is the potential for drama? Can they give an example of how to avoid drama?
- How much time will she be allowed to spend using the app, and under what conditions?
- What privacy settings will he use?
- Is having her password a condition of use? Being "friends" or "following" her?
- How will he decide what can be shared or not shared?
- Does she know how to avoid "geotagging" herself, leaving a trail of data?
Wading in, going deeper and then having an honest discussion with your child is a great way to keep up with the apps she's using and make sure what she downloads is safe and fun. If the app seems to be dialing up stress, taking away from other pursuits (sleep, homework, family time) or is having any other negative effects, then it is time to rethink.