Mobile Messaging And Kids: How Aware Are Parents?

By on Aug 21, 2014

Messaging apps are the in thing today. Right from a collegian to the 40-something mother of two; from the local electrician trying to increase client base to the highly popular movie actor; everyone is part of some or the other ‘chat group’. Naturally then can children be far behind? They are the first infact to discover and explore new apps.

Now the thing with children is that they mainly want to connect, share and fraternize with peer groups. But sometimes, their curiosity can lead them astray. Children also assume what they share online anonymously remains secret and if they post anonymously; their identity will not be discovered. In addition, many have absolutely no idea how fast content can go viral online and what repercussions an innocent statement or pic can have. They only experiment and explore – they do not have long term vision.

But parents have. They also have the understanding born of age and experience. So they are the best people to guide children online and ensure they use these apps safely.

Let’s take a quick peek at some of the most popular messaging apps today.

WhatsApp is currently the undisputed global leader in messaging, exceeding a user count of 350 million by 2013-end, of which nearly 30 million are from India!

Line has also recorded a user base that exceeded 30 million globally by 2013-end. Line has one main advantage over WhatsApp, and that’s the ability to play games and do video chats.

Viber has over 200 million global users, with Indian users expected to reach nearly 30 million by 2014-end. Its USP is that it offers features like ‘Push to Talk’ and message forwarding to any group or contact, new conversation backgrounds and group conversations with upto 100 participants!

WeChat also allows users to make voice/video calls, besides the usual group chat. Its USP is its ‘discovery feature’ that enables users to discover and connect with new people.

Hike is a free Indian messaging app that was introduced in 201 but had not picked up much speed. However, now we note a spurt in ads on Hike which specifically target young users. The count of users is also on the rise.

Besides this, there are BBM (Which Blackberry is now offering on Android phones too), Apple’s Facetime, Facebook messenger, Google chat & Yahoo messenger.

There are also some messaging apps that are not so well known among the older crowd, but very popular with the younger users. These include Kik, SnapChat, Ask.fm, Yik Yak, Whisper, Tumblr and Vine among others. Parents are mostly in the dark about these and assume that they are similar to WhatsApp which they themselves use and so safe. But user policies differ and it is in your interest to know details about them – For your kids.

Now what should you be aware of as a parent?

  • Age limit: There is an age limit for most sites. For eg, WhatsApp requires users to be 16 years old or older, while Kik calls for a minimum age of 17.
  • Sharing: Posts and pics can be saved and shared via mobile phones. Even those that disappear after a set time
  • Content: The anonymity offered by some apps lead to people sharing obscene content or being outright rude and nasty
  • User authenticity: Some apps don’t even require a phone number to connect.So fake IDs can be created and used to lure unsuspecting victims
  • Unsavory content: Some apps do not monitor content, hence the content shared is often inappropriate in nature
  • Access to post: There are apps that let users track fellow users using GPS tracking.
  • Anonymity: Though one can post anonymously on some apps, over time they are likely to reveal personal details that can help reveal their identity

It goes without saying that app developers do not encourage posting and sharing of inappropriate content or violence. Rather, it’s the users who take advantage of these to share unsavoury content. These therefore are the favorite playground for cyberbullies, stalkers and paedophiles.

Hence, it’s important that parents are aware of these apps, their pros and cons as well as monitor their children’s use of these. While the use of these apps can be enriching and rewarding social experiences, especially for those shy, nervous children, they have their drawbacks too.

What should a parent do?

Abiding strictly by the age limit is the first step. In addition, it helps if parents have continuous and open conversations regarding connecting with strangers and responsible posting with their children. Also set limits on cellphone usage time, monthly expense and ban night time use. You may also instruct children to keep GPS turned off and not upload personal photos on messaging profiles. Preteens and teens are really not prepared to handle bullies, paedophiles, and cybercrooks and so some amount of parental supervision and intervention is necessary.

And as always, do install and use McAfee MobileSecurity on all your kids’ cellphones and tabs and teach them the STOP.THINK. CONNECT mantra.

Big thanks due, to the following sources for data and facts shared in this blog:

Lighthouse Insights

INDIA TV

Checkup Daily

About the Author

Cybermum India

Anindita Mishra is McAfee’s Cybermum in India. A Pune-based freelance writer, teacher and devoted mother of two- Anindita has always been a vocal advocate for issues tied to children's welfare and development. Like many Indian parents, Anindita wants to make sure that her children are safe wherever they go, in the real or virtual world. ...

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