Hiding from you: Teens love apps they can hide from parents

Where there is a will there is a way.  This is something often heard in our office.  When we are dealing with trying to limit a child’s access to sexual content in the digital world or trying to create barriers for accountability for someone with a sexual addiction, we must always remember this!

This is particularly true when dealing with parental controls and teens.  As soon as a parent installs some sort of parental control or filtering software, many a teen is online looking at YouTube to try to figure out how to uninstall the filter or get around it.  Trust me, within minutes, the fix is found on YouTube with detailed instructions.  No matter how hard we try, it is nearly impossible to stay one step ahead of the tech savvy digital native!

The world of apps offers an array of ways to get around parental intervention.  Previously, the app Poof had made the news.  The app was created to hide apps on the phone.  This way, when a parent looked at the smartphone of their child, they would not see any apps that the child had hidden using the poof app.  In these cases, even the tech savvy parent who was checking a phone and knew what to look for could be misled. Another similar app is making news recently. This app, called Hike, recently hit the news as one of the fastest growing social media apps with 35 million users in India alone. 

Why is Hike becoming so popular?  It is an app that allows its users to send traditional messages for free.  It also has other features that teens like such as stickers and emoticons.  You can also send voice messages and files such as PDF, Doc, and PPT etc.  Though these features are nice, they are not what make the app so attractive to teens.  The attraction lies in the privacy settings. 

The privacy features allow the user to limit who can see their profile picture.  The description on the company website states “say goodbye to stalkers.  From the milk man to your aunts to that creepy guy in college…”  Only those people who you want to see you will see you. Additionally, another popular feature is the Hidden mode.  This allows the user to hide chats and access them only with a password. 

A teen featured in an article in Bloomberg (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-26/indian-teens-flirt-in-private-as-hike-app-tops-20-million-users.html) stated that he used the app because his parents were always looking over his shoulder at what he was doing on his phone.  With the app, he could keep his relationship a secret from his parents.  The business world thinks that this feature, the hidden feature, is what will move Hike past apps such as Whatsap and Facebook Messenger (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-26/indian-teens-flirt-in-private-as-hike-app-tops-20-million-users.html).   Hike provides a level of privacy that other messaging apps do not provide.  The company actively markets the app to young people living at home.  Currently, Hike is not prevalent in the US market, but is starting to be used more in overseas markets.  It is possible that this app, or one like it will gain users in the US. 

What does all this mean for parenting?  No matter how hard a parent tries, technology is always one step ahead.  If the only means of dealing with your child and their digital usage is to block or filter, you are likely missing the target.  Filtering or blocking may be appropriate for your child, as might be blocking the ability to install apps without parental approval.  However, these techniques must be combined with others.  Parents need to talk to their teens about what they are doing in the digital world.  Show some interest in what is a big part of their lives. Ask about what apps are popular.  Have discussions about communication and privacy and what that means in a digital world.  Parents need to get and stay informed and talk to their children about these issues. 

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