When I want to know what the latest trends are in technology, I end up asking an adolescent. We adults inevitably are some of the last to know what is going on in the world of apps and social media. As kids are moving away from social networking sites like Facebook, they are moving toward messenger apps. Kik is one of the newer messenger apps that are gaining popularity with teens.
Kik (www.kik.com) is a messenger app that is the first smartphone messenger to have a built in browser that allows users to talk, and browse while sharing with friends. It is available for all smartphone applications. It can also be used on any i-technology such as an ipad or an ipod touch. According to the company website, there are over 100 million users of this chatting app.
One of the features of this messaging app that teens particularly like is that they can do more than just chat. The app allows them to send pictures or video. As always, there are some downfalls. There is no age verification for the app, so that does not stop someone younger from using the app. Another potential disadvantage is that there are no parental controls on the app.
This app is often used in combination with other apps such as Instagram, which can allow people that your child does not know to send them a message (if they publicize their user name). This fact, along with the lack of parental controls and no age requirement, does open the app up for use for sexual purposes. The app has a 17+ rating and a reputation for being inundated with sexually explicit materials.
Hightechdad (www.hightechdad.com) wrote of his experience and shared that his daughter was solicited for nude photos on the site after a stranger obtained her username from Instagram. Last year, Education Magazine (www.education.com) named the app one of the 8 worst apps for kids.
I am always an advocate of awareness. First, parents should always know what their children are doing both online and on their phone. Do they have this app and use it with their friends? If they are using it, have you talked to them about the app? What are they using it for? Why do they like it? Do they only chat with people they actually know in real life or do they chat with strangers?
I am also always an advocate of communicating with your child. Unwanted sexual solicitation of minors is newsworthy and alarming but it is not necessarily the norm. The first conversation perhaps should be about privacy. Most of today’s teens and tweens are very aware that people do solicit minors for sexual purposes. Parents need to talk to their children about the possibility of someone contacting them for sexual purposes. This conversation needs to be more than just a “this can happen” conversation. What is the family plan if an unwanted solicitation online occurs? Will we report it to the police? Will we report it to the company?
If your child wants to use the app and you are concerned, the best course of action is not necessarily to forbid it, as they are likely to find another app that you don’t know about or use an app like Poof to hide it from you. Perhaps a transparency policy is better suited. However, to be effective, you have to know what you are looking at when you check out the apps on your child’s phone and be aware of how they work.