As a mom of four, I know firsthand how overwhelming it can be to navigate the ever-changing world of technology and online safety. With my oldest son heading into his teenage years, I’ve become increasingly concerned about his screen time, online activity and apps he’s using and the potential dangers that come with them. Unsafe apps are being used more and more with teens and tweens.
After extensive research, I’ve compiled a list of the most concerning apps that parents should be aware of when it comes to their teenager’s online safety.
How We Decided Which Apps Were Unsafe
We carefully researched each of the following apps, paying specific attention to the following factors:
When it comes to kids of any age, parents don’t want their children to be able to have their location tracked. Whether it’s by a friend or stranger, it’s not safe for other people to see where your children are.
Sometimes chatting between trusted friends can be innocent, but it can easily become cyber bullying or worse. If an app doesn’t have parental controls on the chat feature, it can be dangerous. App chats potentially could be a way for strangers to groom children.
Again, photo and video sharing can be a fun, innocent way for friends to communicate. However, sexting can occur on apps when parental controls are either unavailable or unused.
Connecting with strangers
Some of the apps on our list allow users to connect with strangers. Obviously, this can pose dangers as adults can pose as children and pose a threat to actual children using the app.
Several of these apps allow access to porn, violence, and other inappropriate content.
Ability to delete messages and images
Sometimes kids choose to delete messages, images, or photos so their parents can’t see what’s been sent or received.
We highly recommend you look through each individual app, discuss rules (and consequences for breaking those rules) with your child, and set up parental controls before allowing your child to use any of these apps. Further, we note that while we have recommended age minimums for each individual app, we recognize each child is different. You will have to determine if a specific app is appropriate and acceptable for your child.
Concerning Apps for Teens and Tweens
Snapchat, with 375 million daily active users, has become a popular social media platform among teenagers worldwide. In over 20 countries, the app reaches 90% of the 13-24 year old population. While Snapchat’s popularity among young people is undeniable, it also poses significant safety risks for teens and tweens.
Snapchat’s disappearing messages and photos feature can lead to the sharing of inappropriate or risky content among teens, who may feel emboldened to share things they wouldn’t otherwise. However, this poses a significant challenge for parents to monitor their child’s activity on the app, as the lack of saved messages and pictures makes it difficult to track. Even with monitoring tools, it’s impossible to view content that has been sent and automatically deleted. Additionally, the receiver can still take a screenshot of live photos, which creates a risk of inappropriate content being shared or seen.
Another safety concern for parents is the “Snap Map” feature, which shows the exact location of a user’s friends on a map. This feature could potentially put teens and tweens in danger by revealing their whereabouts to strangers or acquaintances.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Snapchat: 17 Years Old
Instagram is a hugely popular app for teenagers, with 72% of 13-17 year olds using the platform. While it can be an exciting way to connect with friends, share photos, and express creativity, it’s important to recognize that there are significant risks associated with using the app, particularly for tweens and teens.
One of the most significant risks is cyberbullying. According to a survey of over 10,000 young people aged 12 to 20, cyberbullying is a prevalent issue, with nearly 70% of respondents admitting to engaging in abusive behavior towards others online. Additionally, 17% of participants reported experiencing online bullying themselves.
The survey also found that one in three young people lived in fear of cyberbullying, with appearance being the most common topic for abusive behavior. Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a common issue on Instagram, and it can be challenging for victims to escape. It’s important to know that bullying is never acceptable and that there are ways to report and block bullies on the app.
Another risk to be aware of is the Explore page. While it can be a fun way to discover new content and funny videos, the Explore page can also expose users to inappropriate content. This content could include sexually explicit images or messages, violent content, substance abuse, discriminatory content, or other forms of inappropriate material. It’s essential to be cautious when using the Explore page and to report any content that violates Instagram’s community guidelines.
One of the last concerns with Instagram is Instagram’s direct messaging feature allows users to have private conversations with other users. While this can be a great way to stay in touch with friends, it also means that parents may not be aware of these conversations. It’s important to use good judgment when communicating with others on Instagram and to remember that anything you say in a private message can still be screenshot and shared.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Instagram: 17 Years Old
Discord is a messaging app that was primarily designed for gamers, however it is now being used by more than just the gaming community. The app operates using servers, which are like message boards where users can interact with others who share similar interests.
One of Discord’s primary functions is the ability to create private chats and share photos and videos, which can lead to issues such as cyberbullying and sexting. Although Discord is meant for users 13 years or older, many servers require users to be 18 or older to join. This is because users sometimes post explicit content that is not suitable for minors. It’s also important to note that predators can target children on Discord, making it a risky platform for kids.
Your child can update their usage statistics, personalization data, and safe direct messaging options in Discord’s User Settings > Privacy and Safety. To enhance safety on the app, use the safe direct messaging feature, which automatically searches for and deletes explicit content within direct messages.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Discord: 16 Years Old
The MeetMe app lives up to its name by allowing users to chat and meet new people. Unlike other social media platforms, MeetMe focuses on introducing users to new friends rather than connecting them with old ones. Signing up is easy and can be done using an email address or Facebook account. Once registered, users can create a profile, view profile pictures, and message other MeetMe members. In other words, it masquerades as a social app but is actually designed to facilitate hook-ups, meet-ups, or dating.
It’s important to note that the MeetMe app is rated 17+ on the App Store, indicating that it’s not suitable for most teens. The app’s popularity also attracts trolls and predators, putting young users at risk. Its feature of connecting people based on geographic proximity only heightens the risk of predators targeting unsuspecting users.
I recall a news report from my local area that involved a predator using MeetMe. In 2018, an Oregon man was arrested in Boise for kidnapping a young girl, who he met through MeetMe. The suspect was charged with felony kidnapping and lewd conduct with a child under 16 after law enforcement officers discovered the teen girl in his home.
Although MeetMe offers social media features such as chatting with strangers, trading pictures, taking anonymous polls, and adding friends, parents should be aware of the app’s potential risks and monitor their child’s activity on the platform.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use MeetMe: 18+ Years Old
TikTok has become a phenomenon among teenagers, with its short-form videos and catchy soundtracks taking social media by storm. However, as with any social media platform, there are risks associated with its use. The app’s algorithm-driven “For You” page can be addicting, but it can also expose users to inappropriate content.
TikTok has been criticized for not doing enough to moderate content, and some users have reported encountering videos containing graphic violence, hate speech, and sexual content.
In addition to the risks of inappropriate content, there is growing concern about the impact TikTok can have on mental health. According to a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, two-thirds of American teenagers use TikTok, with the average viewer spending 80 minutes a day on the app. Researchers from the center set up new accounts, at the minimum age of 13 years old. These accounts paused briefly on videos about body image and mental health, and liked them. The results of the study were deeply disturbing. Within 2.6 minutes, TikTok recommended suicide content. Within 8 minutes, TikTok served content related to eating disorders.
Every 39 seconds, TikTok recommended videos about body image and mental health to teens. This highlights the potential dangers of the app and the need for parents and guardians to monitor their children’s usage and discuss the impact of social media on mental health.
Another risk associated with TikTok is the app’s private messaging feature. Users can send direct messages to one another, which can lead to cyberbullying and even predatory behavior. The app also allows for the sharing of personal information, such as location and contact information, which can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Parents should be aware of these risks and take steps to monitor their children’s use of TikTok. This may include setting limits on screen time, monitoring direct messages, and discussing the importance of privacy and online safety with their children. TikTok can be a fun and entertaining platform, but it’s important to use it responsibly and be aware of the risks involved.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use TikTok: 17 Years Old
Among Us is a popular online and local party game that involves teamwork and betrayal, and is designed for 4-10 players. The setting of the game is in space, and players have to work together to complete tasks while trying to identify and vote off any “imposters” who are trying to sabotage the mission. It honestly can be SO FUN!
While Among Us is a fun game for kids, the app also has a chat feature that allows for private messaging and potentially dangerous conversations. Among Us also allows users to connect with strangers and join public games with people they do not know. This can put children at risk of being exposed to inappropriate or harmful content, as well as interacting with strangers who may have malicious intentions.
Furthermore, the game requires an internet connection, which means that personal information and data may be transmitted and stored on servers. This information can include usernames, game statistics, and chat logs, which can be accessed by hackers or other malicious actors.
It is important for parents to educate their children about online safety and the potential risks of using apps like Among Us. This includes setting clear boundaries and guidelines for app usage, such as limiting the amount of time spent playing the game, and closely monitoring their child’s interactions with other users. Parents may also want to consider using parental controls or third-party monitoring software to help ensure their child’s safety while using the app.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Among Us: 14 Years Old
Kik is a free messenger app that is quite popular among pre-teens and teens. 70% of Kik users are aged between 13 and 24 years old. The app is accessible to anyone over 13 and can be downloaded for free. Around a third of teens actively use the platform, and about 40% of teens have tried it.
With Kik, users can send text messages, pictures, videos, GIFs, sketches, and more. The app is a versatile tool that can be used for communication, education, and entertainment purposes, making it a favorite among teenagers. However, Kik is not safe for children, and parents should be wary of its potential dangers.
One of the main concerns with Kik is unauthorized chatting. Anyone with the app can send messages to other users without permission, making it easy for criminals to communicate with teens anonymously and potentially mislead them. Sex offenders may use the platform to harass teenagers by sending sexually explicit content. Moreover, there are groups and people who promote nudity that is not safe for teens.
Online predators are also a significant concern when it comes to Kik. They may steal users’ personal information or send adult content and criminal activities without permission, which can be dangerous for kids. In the past year, there have been dozens of child pornography arrests linked to Kik. Forbes conducted an investigation on Kik in 2019, where a reporter created a fake 14-year-old boy account. Predators messaged the account within minutes, and this experiment has been repeated with comparable outcomes.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Kik: 18+ Years Old
Roblox, the popular online gaming platform with over 55 million daily active users, has its share of risks that parents should be aware of. While it allows users to play games designed by other players or design their own, the chat feature is a cause for concern. It enables private messaging and sharing of personal information, making it easier for predators to interact with children.
Even though kids may be interacting with other kids, there are adults on the platform, and harassment and exploitation is a potential risk. In the past, reports of sexually-suggestive material and explicit instances of characters being assaulted raised concerns among parents about the safety of Roblox for kids.
To ensure their child’s safety, parents must monitor their use of the app and restrict chat privileges if necessary. While Roblox has elements of self-policing, such as moderators and rules, there are still ways for individuals with wrong intentions to make their way into the platform and into your child’s chat room.
A 2019 case out of the U.K. highlights the danger of predators on Roblox, where a mom learned her son was being groomed by a predator on the platform, which led to receiving sexually explicit images on a third-party chat app not affiliated with Roblox.
To keep kids safe on Roblox, use parental controls and account restrictions. Parents can adjust contact and other settings through the Privacy tab under Settings. Additional controls can be set under the Security section of Account Settings. Remind kids not to chat with strangers, not to give away personal information, and not to move conversations to other platforms.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Roblox: 13 Years Old
Marco Polo is a video messaging app that has grown in popularity among children and teens. The app allows users to send video messages to each other, and while it can be a fun way for friends to keep in touch, it also has some potential risks.
One of the primary concerns with Marco Polo is the potential for private conversations and the sharing of personal information. Kids and teens may not realize the risks associated with sharing personal information, such as their full name, address, or phone number. This information could be used by strangers with malicious intentions to track down and harm them.
Additionally, the app’s video messaging feature allows for potentially inappropriate content to be shared between users. Kids could be exposed to explicit or violent content, which could have a negative impact on their mental and emotional well-being.
To keep kids safe on Marco Polo, parents should monitor their child’s use of the app and restrict access if necessary. This can include setting age restrictions or disabling certain features, such as the ability to chat with strangers.
It’s also important for parents to talk to their kids about online safety and the potential risks associated with using apps like Marco Polo. Encouraging kids to be cautious about who they share personal information with and to report any inappropriate behavior can help keep them safe while using the app.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Marco Polo: 15 Years Old
Omegle is an anonymous chat app. The platform allows users to connect with strangers and have anonymous conversations through text, video, or voice chats. Users on the platform wait in a virtual queue until they are connected to a random stranger in a chatroom. They can choose to text chat, video chat, or both. Users can also list interests like music or video games to match with others who share similar interests.
Although the app is not intended for minors, many teenagers have used it for various reasons, such as to meet new people or to explore their sexuality.
Omegle and similar “talk to stranger” sites are notorious for attracting online child predators who use cunning strategies to target minors. These predators may add popular interests among younger users or local high schools to their profile to increase the chances of connecting with a potential victim. Once connected, they may attempt to groom their victim by moving the conversation to another messaging platform or arranging an in-person meeting.
In addition, the app has been criticized for its lack of moderation and control over inappropriate content. Unlike other social media platforms, Omegle does not require users to create an account, verify their age, or provide any personal information. This anonymity makes it easier for predators to operate without being identified or caught.
Given these risks, it is recommended that teenagers avoid using Omegle altogether. Parents should educate their children about the dangers of online predators and monitor their internet activity to prevent them from accessing potentially harmful apps and websites.
Mommy High Five recommended age for children to use Omegle: 18+ Years Old
How Can We Protect Our Teens From Dangerous Apps?
We just explored the various apps and dangers that exist in the online world, and as concerned parents, we want to know how we can keep our kids safe from these potential risks. The good news is that there are steps we can take today to promote healthy online habits and protect our teens from dangerous apps. Here is a list of practical tips to help you navigate online safety as a parent.
- Talk to your kids about online safety: Have an open and honest conversation with your teen about the potential risks of interacting with strangers online, and set clear guidelines for safe online behavior. Encourage your teen to come to you with any concerns or questions they may have about their online activities. Let them know they can trust you and that you are there to help keep them safe.
- Model appropriate behavior: Your own online behavior sets an example for your teen. Show them how to be a good digital citizen by practicing safe and respectful online behavior yourself.
- Set expectations: Clearly communicate your expectations for your teen’s online activities, including what apps they can and cannot use and how they should handle any suspicious or uncomfortable interactions.
- Monitor their activity: Keep an eye on your teen’s online activity, especially if they are using apps known to be risky. Use parental controls and monitoring software.
- Keep devices in common spaces: Internet usage, in all its forms should be used in common spaces at all times to monitor usage and prevent secretive behavior. Especially make sure to keep devices out of children’s bedrooms to promote healthy sleep habits and prevent late-night online activity.
- Password protect everything: Ensure that downloads are password protected to prevent unauthorized access and limit exposure to inappropriate content.
- Use parental control routers: Parental control routers help your kids stay safe on any device connected to your home Wi-Fi network. You can apply rules for all the devices on your home network, giving you control over everything your family sees.
In conclusion, as parents, it is our responsibility to stay informed about the various apps and websites our children are using and be aware of the potential risks they may pose. By being vigilant and proactive, we can help our teens and tweens navigate the online world safely.
It’s important to remember that open communication, education, and setting clear boundaries can go a long way in promoting healthy online habits. With these tools and resources, we can work together to ensure the safety and well-being of our children in the digital age.
We’ve got this!