No less than once every day, my kids will ask me to have [fill in the blank of the latest social media app.] Yesterday it was Snapchat, today it’s live.ly, and who knows what they will be asking for tomorrow. It’s exhausting. I’ve found some effective ways to encourage the conversation and in some cases, shut down the conversation (at least temporarily.)
- “What is the App Rated”
For iOS devices, the apps have an age rating found within the iTunes store and it looks like this:
There are several categories of ratings, from all ages to adult. I found this nice chart on Wikipedia showing, by store, the age group recommendations.
If all of their friends have an app that is rated for older age groups than the age of your child and you’re considering giving them access, there are websites dedicated to giving parents a detailed description of why these apps were rated the way they were . Here is an example of one of these websites.
If you want to take a hard-lined approach, you can restrict downloads not in their age group completely. Instructions for iOS devices can be found by following this link.
- “How Do You Know That You Are Safe Within the App”
Once you approve downloading the app, now you have to worry about your child’s security and privacy WITHIN the app. How does the the app use your child’s data? Google the words “privacy of [name of app] to get background on this. I did a search for “privacy of musical.ly” and got the following link. To keep their personal information private, my kids will create accounts with dummy emails, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. When an app requires a valid email address, I have created a separate Gmail account from their personal email account, to ensure that their current email account stays clean and can be used to prioritize the important emails. Plus, then I can monitor how this information is being used (or sold.) This is a great teachable moment for them when you discuss security. Free is NOT free when it comes to apps and how they use personal data to make money with marketers.
Each app handles personal data differently. When your child registers with Pokemon Go, it accesses their entire Google account. This means that the company that develops the app, and the one who is selling your data, has access to all of your kids’ friends’ contact information, current location information, and pictures. And when you remove full Google access from your Pokemon Go account, you might as well be playing with a brick. They have since called this issue a “security flaw.” Whatever the reason, companies want their personal information and as parents, we need to understand what personal data the apps are using. The most important message to your kids is that you trust them, but you don’t trust any company to protect your privacy better than you can. No one will care more about your child’s security than you – remember that.
- “Is Your Social Profile Public or Private”
As a parent trying to keep my kids secure and safe, my responsibility has gotten A LOT more complicated when you include social media. I took for granted that my kids understood the difference between a public and private profile in social media apps, but was told the other day that one of them didn’t understand the difference until they discussed it in the classroom. In some cases, these apps encourage kids to keep their profiles public. For instance, in musical.ly you can’t do duets with the musical.ly stars unless your profile is public. By having your child go public, you encourage strangers to know information about your family and what your children do on a daily basis.
To see how your kid has set up his profile, play stupid. Ask them to show you on their apps how they have make their profile private and see if they know what that means. If they are public, ask them why. If they think they’re going to be the next big vlogger or Muical.ly star, probably not a good enough reason to risk their personal security and your family’s privacy.
- “How Are You Downloading Your Apps”
You need to make sure your kids download legit versions of the app. Hackers are opportunistic and once Pokemon Go became hot, several fake apps popped up. 172 fake Pokemon Go apps have been discovered across a mixture of the AppStore, GooglePlay, and AppBrain. You are responsible for identifying what’s fake versus what’s a real app before they install the app. Look at the reviews, the number of downloads, rating, etc, before allowing your child to do the download. Or ask a parent of one of their friends to send you information on the app they want.
Additionally, a lot of apps these days ask for access to your address book. When this happens, the app developer now has all of the information for all of their friends and relatives in their address book without their approval, obviously a violation of everyone’s privacy. Again, a simple Google search on “why does the [name of app] need access to my address book?” will give you enough information to understand how the app works, and if you’re lucky, will identify a fake app before your child signs up for the service and inadvertently exposes everything on his/her phone, including the address book, photos, and even credentials to all of their social media apps.
All of this oversight into their day-to-day lives may seem overwhelming, but you should look at it as an opportunity to build trust between you and your kids. If they know that you are in their corner when it comes to technology, you might just open the doors to communication on a lot of other things, too!