Do you know who your child is DM’ing? Do you know what DM’ing is? Whatever your level of tech savvy happens to be, if you have kids, you need to be up on the apps they’re using to talk to their peers as part of your strategy to keep them safe online. Don’t panic—there’s nothing scary about the apps themselves. It’s more about being informed and avoiding this:
Here are nine apps you should know about:
What it is: Primarily a photo sharing app that lets users post pictures for their followers/friends to see and like, Instagram also comes equipped with a little-used direct messaging feature.
Why they love it: The app is pretty popular across demographics, but kids might like the direct messaging feature specifically because it’s one place you probably didn’t think to check. (Like, do you even check your own Instagram DMs?)
Why you should talk about it: Kids DM using the darndest things. While their Insta accounts may seem like a collection of selfies and pics of the family cat, talking to them about the types of photos they might be privately sharing through DMs and letting them know that those photos won’t necessarily remain private is key.
What it is: A messaging app with photo and video capabilities that doesn’t require users to provide their real names.
Why they love it: Kik has all kinds of cute extras like e-cards, special emojis, and mini games.
Why you should talk about it: The app is heavy on advertising but it’s not always clear who’s an ad-bot and who’s a real person. There is a block function though, and kids should be encouraged to use it liberally and only chat with people they know.
What it is: With two billion photos and videos sent using Snapchat every day, we’re not sure how anything else is getting done. “Snaps” are visual messages that kids can alter with text, filters, drawings, and effects. The big seller: the messages disappear one to 10 seconds after they’re seen.
Why they love it: Snapchat gives the illusion of zero-consequence photo and video sharing, making it fun to send silly or embarrassing photos kids may otherwise be too self-conscious to share.
Why you should talk about it: While the appearance of no consequences may be the lure, in reality, Snapchats can be screencapped, saved, and stored. The app makers themselves have admitted that there’s even an external app that does the job for the user—and that’s the number one reason you need to have the sexting talk with your kid, like, yesterday.
What it is: A messaging app that’s similar in style to Snapchat, but text-only.
Why they love it: For the same reasons they love Snapchat: their messages appear one word at a time and then disappear after the person on the other end reads them.
Why you should talk about it: The app’s creators have put a lot of effort into making sure these messages really do disappear—which presents a different risk: the ability to bully (or be bullied) and leave no trace.
What it is: Users have the ability to text or send photos. Location determines who can see them and all messages are anonymous.
Why they love it: The anonymity and ability to say whatever you want appeals to kids who want to vent about something (or someone) to a group they feel represents them.
Why you should talk about it: Yik Yak has a bit of a bad rep for being a place where a fair amount of online bullying goes down. The app’s users have even gone so far as to use the platform to threaten others—and that’s where the anonymity ends. Make a threat? Yik Yak will report you to the authorities. Make sure your kids know that like free speech, anonymity has limits.
What it is: An anonymous secret-sharing app designed as a platform for confessions that range from funny to outright disturbing.
Why they love it: Show us a kid that isn’t intrigued by a secret.
Why you should talk about it: Whisper is aimed at older kids and adults but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones on it. If you’re hoping to limit your kid’s online reading to PG material, it might be best to ban Whisper until they’re older.
What it is: Line is (or is at least trying to be) everything. Users can make free video calls, text, chat as a group, and play games.
Why they love it: Emojis, avatars, stickers, and the hidden chat feature that mimics what Snapchat does.
Why you should talk about it: Three words: In. App. Purchases. Something you definitely want to discuss if your kid’s iTunes or Android Store account is linked to your credit card.
What it is: No, this is not a Drake-inspired chat app where fans discuss October’s Very Own. It’s a group chat app that also provides free messaging, video, and voice calls.
Why they love it: The free video chats are what kids seem to be into—working on a class project? Kids can collaborate even when they’re not in the office, err, classroom.
Why you should talk about it: While ooVoo definitely has the potential to be a homework helper, it could also become a distraction. Make sure kids know that schoolwork is the priority, chatting with friends can wait until later. The great thing about ooVoo is that it only allows chats from people you’ve approved.
What it is: WhatsApp arrived on the messaging app scene early and now has over one billion users. It’s owned by Facebook and allows you to send text, audio, video, photo, and emoji-laden missives for free using wifi.
Why they love it: For kids with no text plan, this is a free way to chat with friends.
Why you should talk about it: The wide use of WhatsApp (by kids, teens, and adults alike) makes it pretty safe. If you’re in your child’s address book, you’ll automatically be added to their WhatsApp contacts. Then again, so will everyone else in their address book. Make sure you’re okay with that.