Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“Cyberbullying is poised to turn into the biggest online concern, already affecting up to 35 per cent of all children” – Dr. Martyn Wild, cyberbullying expert
“It is okay to own a technology, what is not okay is to be owned by technology.” – Abhijit Naskar, Mucize Insan: When The World is Family
“For a better mental health, just turning off the unwanted notifications, getting rid of the social apps that you don’t really need to have will help you in different ways.” – Jyoti Patel
It is understood that it may be extremely difficult for parents to stay informed about the ever-changing world of the Internet. And it can be even more difficult for them to keep up with the recent developments in the world of Apps. Most children these days have smartphones, which they use very frequently throughout the day. Children use them in a variety of ways, but very often their parents are unaware that some of these apps can be detrimental to their children’s development.
Another problem is that many parents are struggling to identify those apps which can potentially pose danger to their children. Indeed, it is not as easy as it seems and even most tech-savvy parents can be…
We need to understand that the situation is changing every day and new apps that can fall under the category of “dangerous” or at least “undesirable” may emerge. The apps that we are going to discuss in this article have been around for a long time and are currently the most popular ones among children. They can also be considered dangerous for your kids.
Now, when I say “dangerous” I do not mean that if you discover one of these apps on your children’s phones then you should get into a panic. Not at all. Of course, it is up to you how to proceed in such a situation. You should probably at least have a serious conversation with your child, explaining to them the dangers of having and using the apps on their phones. And it is imperative that all parents are aware of the potentially undesirable apps on their children’s phones.
Most parents are familiar with this app or at least know about its existence. Snapchat was created in 2011 and it was the first app to introduce and popularize the concept of so-called “disappearing messages”. While it may seem that this function is a good thing – after all what you have said in a private conversation with a friend will be erased – things are not as easy as they may seem to be at first sight. It is important to remember the hard truth – whatever you do or write on the Internet, nothing really disappears there. Especially if we consider that everyone these days knows how to make a screenshot.
There is one other concern related to the use of Snapchat. This app has the GPS-powered Snap Map, which makes it possible for your children’s friends to know about your child’s whereabouts. It also does not prevent strangers from knowing where your child is. So this is something serious to think about.
So, if you have learnt that your child is using Snapchat and if you do not wish to insist on their deleting the app or think that such requests will be ignored, we recommend that you at least have a serious conversation with them about the potentially negative effects of this app. At least they will be aware that this app is not as innocuous as it may seem and the more your child is aware of the potential dangers of these apps, the more they will be able to protect themselves.
Another extremely popular app that can often be found on young people’s phones is Instagram. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, recently developed a range of its functions. Although some time ago the option of disappearing messages and photos was not available for Instagram users, this is not the case anymore.
Apart from so-called “disappearing” messages and photos, the main concern related to Instagram is the amount of inappropriate content that anybody can access there within a matter of seconds. Although it may seem that Instagram has an extensive range of functions protecting every user’s privacy (and indeed, if a user desire they can make their accounts “private”), nothing yet can prevent a teenager from looking for explicit content. Of course, the managers of the app have made some serious attempts to make it safer for young people and children, but many of these settings can be easily turned off. Some of them are ineffective altogether.
There is one more thing that you and your child should talk about when it comes to Instagram. Instagram is a social platform where people share their photos. Very often these photos are carefully curated, and photo shopped, which means that they have nothing to do with reality. This can have a negative impact on your child’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Looking at the photos posted by their friends, your child can start thinking that their life is not as exciting. This is of course an illusion, and your child should be aware of that. Tell them whenever they see pictures of their friends on Instagram they are seeing carefully curated and photo shopped photos, which significantly distort reality.
Most parents are usually surprised to hear that Twitter is on the list of apps considered undesirable for their children. Indeed, Twitter is usually believed to be a platform for sharing breaking news and disseminating “intellectual” content. But the truth is that Twitter can also be a place where users can find a lot of inappropriate content.
Fortunately, those people using Twitter can exercise a good amount of control over the things that they see on the app. But sometimes protecting your child from unwanted content may be difficult. Let us, for example, imagine the following situation: your child is following someone and that someone re-tweets content from another account. As a result of this, your child can be exposed to unnecessary information coming from complete strangers. And some of this information may not be appropriate.
There is another potential problem related to the use of Twitter. This problem is misinformation. Recently, the amount of fake information or so-called “fake news” has increased significantly. And in many respects, this was related to the increasing popularity of social media.
Indeed, social media is an extremely favourable environment for spreading misinformation. Again, very recently the creators of the platforms have made significant attempts to protect their users from fake information. But the danger of being exposed to fake news is still very real.
Finally, when it comes to Twitter sometimes it may be tricky to have any control over the people who follow you. Twitter was originally conceived as a platform promoting openness, which means that anybody can follow your profile. Fortunately, just like on Instagram, Twitter users can make their account profile and hide from those people whom they do not know. Of course, many children may choose to disregard this option. They may even think that it is fun to have followers among strangers. In your conversation with your child, you could highlight the benefits of making their profile private and your child will be able to make a conscious decision to do so.
It is important to understand that if your child has the apps on their phones, it does not necessarily mean that they are viewing inappropriate content. It is often the result of the peer pressure that teenagers experience – they simply want to keep up with their friends. So, your first step should be talking to your child about the apps that they already have or the ones that they want to download.
For example, you could discuss the pros and the cons of each app your child already has or wants to download. Make sure you are carefully listening to what your child has to say and that you acknowledge their point of view. And of course, it is up to you how you want to proceed but remember – one serious and sincere conversation about the app can go a long way and save your child from inappropriate content and cyber bullying.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.