- Is your child using software to avoid parental supervision?
- Does your child spend significant unmonitored time online?
- Is your child suddenly withdrawing from family, friends and activities they once enjoyed?
- Is your child beginning to show signs of constant stress such as mood changes, acting out, isolation, secrecy?
Your kids are almost certainly more technologically advanced than you, and new technology arrives every day. It requires our diligent effort to stay on top of it. We recommend that standards, expectations, and safety measures be instituted when your child FIRST begins to use technology. It’s much easier then and establishes the “norm” in your home. Knowing that safety measures online are even important for adults may make the lack of privacy for your kids a bit easier to swallow.
Many kids are utilizing software that you may have never heard of, some of it designed specifically to prevent you from knowing about their actions online. Your kids may truly believe these are legit and may want to use them because their friends do. Again, it’s a good opportunity to teach your children to be critical consumers. “What types of texts and pictures would a person send that they would want to be deleted automatically?” “Who might want to exploit a service that allows users to be totally anonymous?” “ Who might want to exploit a service that allows them to find children who are geographically close to them at that very moment?”
Here’s a list of some of the software that features these types of attributes. You may find one your child uses already, and a year from now, a whole new list will be out there.
- Whisper – Allows anonymous posting of secrets with strangers who are geographically close to you. Posts can then reveal things that cause loss of anonymity to a person in a position to reach you.
YikYak – Allows totally anonymous communication with users within a 1-5 mile radius without any accounts or profiles. This app can turn your child’s school or community into a virtual chat room where mean comments, untruths, maliciousness and character assassination are shared instantly with 500 people in a close geographic area.
Kik (Similar apps: Viber, Whatsapp, Textnow) – Alternative texting service allows texts / images to be sent without being logged in the phone history and thus with the wireless carrier. Though one attractive feature may be the use of WiFi for texting, many cellular carriers provide a similar software that can still be monitored by parents
SnapChat (Similar apps: Poke, Wire, Wickr) – Allows sharing of pictures and videos that are automatically deleted after a specified time. It’s popular for sexting.
ChatRoulette and Omegle – Allow video chatting with strangers. See above for the dangers of chatting with strangers, but kids may feel false security because they believe they are seeing the individual they are chatting. It has been shown that these images can be faked, so an adult can pretend to be a teen and lure kids into sending inappropriate images or meeting in person.
Tinder (Similar apps: Down, Skout, Pure, and Blendr) – Users post images and browse images of other users. If they like an image, they can “flag” that user and if the other user flags them as well, it allows them to contact each other. See above for the obvious dangers.
Poof – Allows users to select and hide specific apps so they won’t show on your smart phone screen. It’s obviously only useful to hide software you wouldn’t want a parent or spouse to find.
This list is in no way exhaustive and is very likely to contain software that is already popular with your child or their friends. Again, be critical in thinking. “WHY this particular feature?” “Who would benefit from a feature like this?” “If you were a person trying to harm another, could you exploit this feature?”
Although we all want to show our kids trust, to believe that your child’s privacy should not be invaded is to assume that they are wise, mature, informed and critical thinkers. Sadly, it’s simply not true and we must understand that it is our duty to protect. In reality, our very best, brightest, and most Christ-centered kids are falling prey to traps online, especially that of porn. Let me repeat that, our BEST, our BRIGHTEST, our most sanctified CHRIST FOLLOWERS are falling into this addiction. And don’t think it’s a “boys only” issue; it’s extremely common among girls as well. If they’re spending significant time online, they’re being exposed.
Many people take a very cavalier stance toward porn believing that it isn’t addictive, maybe even that it is healthy. They believe that concern about porn is simply religious prudishness. Better read up, concerned parent. Numerous studies have shown its addictive nature, and it’s associated with depression, aggressiveness, and a host of other issues and societal ills.
We’ve seen Christian kids who became angry and disillusioned with parents during this difficult struggle, not because the parent invaded their privacy, but because they DIDN’T! They counted on their parents to help them through a severe difficulty and their parents were absent. We must find the approach, take the tough steps, ask our children if they’re struggling. That support may be just the thing to open up a future of being able to come to you when times are tough.
These lists don’t contain all of the information that can be found. You can find many resources online just by searching a term like “keep kids safe online.” Be vigilant, it may make all the difference. As our most precious gift from God, we know our kids are worth it.