If you have tweens or teens living in your household then I am quite sure you would have heard about Kik. Kik is clearly the ‘app of the moment’. In fact, if I was a betting woman, I would predict that Kik’s moment may last for a good while. In such a short period of time, this clever messaging app has become an intrinsic part of tween and teen culture despite the fact that users need to be 13 years old to join.
So what is the hype about? Why does everyone want to become a ‘Kikster’ (a registered Kik user)?
Kik is a free instant messaging app which is widely considered more ‘fun’ than texting. It is fast and has no messaging or character limits or fees if you choose the basic features. Using a data plan or WiFi connection, Kik users can send and receive text messages, photos, videos, sketches, emoticons and more to an individual on their Kik contact list or they can start a group chat with several Kik contacts. Instead of phone numbers each Kik member has a username. In short, it combines texting with a social network.
What do parents need to know?
While Kik does have some great features and is fine for grounded adults to use, there are a few things that concern me when tweens and teens choose to use it:
1) No Parental Controls
Even though Kik is very popular with tweens and teens, it is not intended for their use. Like Facebook and Instagram, users are supposed to be aged 13 or older as the site does not comply with COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act which is a US federal law. COPPA insists websites designed for children aged 12 years or younger adhere to a specific criteria – Kik does not comply. As a result of this, there are no parental controls.
2) Inappropriate Content
The prevalence of graphic images and sexual talk have been reported by many Kiksters. I am also aware that this is happening. Clearly this is not appropriate for tweens or teens. In fact, US educational website Education.com, included Kik on its list of The 8 Worst Apps For Your Kids, saying the app has “more to do with young teens flirting and sexting than just keeping in touch with friends“. Mmmm. Kik has also been rated 17+ by both the App Store and Common Sense Media. The App Store gives the rating due to “Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes”. Enough said.
3) Inviting Friends
As with all social networks, finding friends is a priority. However my biggest concern is the ability for users to invite ‘random’ people to be their friend via an array of social networks. With the click of a button, your tween could reach out to absolutely anyone on Facebook or Tumblr with the message ‘Kik me’ – an invitation to start a new instant message conversation between the sender and whoever answers! This is so very concerning as it absolutely compromises the privacy and safety of tweens and teens.
4) Dangerous Package Deal
Coupled up with other social networks such as Instagram, Kik can really become quite unsafe. Many teens regularly share their Kik username on their other social media accounts such as Instagram which could easily be interpreted as an invitation for ‘friendship’ by internet trolls and nasty types. Your tween or teen may then be bombarded with inappropriate pics, messages or invitation to meet up. Clearly not acceptable.
What should we do as parents to keep our kids safe on Kik?
In an ideal world, we would not allow our kids to go onto social networks that are not suitable for their age group. In reality, this is often hard to enforce. Whilst you may choose to make them delete apps such as Kik, the best solution is to work with them to make social networking as safe an experience as possible and introduce some fair boundaries.
However if you are sure that you want them off and they are underage, parents are able to submit a deactivation request to Kik and they will remove your child’s account.
Regardless of your decision, you should absolutely check the app out for yourself. Being informed and up to date with the latest apps and trends is essential if you want to keep up your ‘tech cred’ and ensure the lines of communication stay open.
Till Next Time
Follow us to stay updated on all things McAfee and on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats.