How to keep your kids safer when they’re messaging.
Just when you’ve got texting sussed, everyone’s switched to messenger. New apps come along and become popular very quickly so stay involved to know what your children are using – Check out some of today’s most popular apps listed at the bottom of the page.
Instant messaging (sometimes called IM) is a blend of email, webcam or chat that you can send to someone in real-time via the internet. You can use the computer or tablet, but the channel of choice for modern teens is the smartphone.
Facebook Messenger is a great choice for parents too, because you can see whether or not they’ve read your message, even if they haven’t replied yet.
With instant messaging, the same common sense safety rules apply as in other digital worlds. Check the privacy settings are appropriate, and talk to your child about being digi-savvy. That means not using their real name on a public profile, never adding a location to messages or photos, and never accepting a follower or friend whom they don’t know in real life.
It’s also worth remembering that many messaging apps work on multiple devices, so don’t think that your child can’t chat to their friends just because you’ve taken away their mobile!
Remind young people that messaging may feel like a private chat, but it’s not. Children write and respond fast and the images, acronyms and emoticons they use can lead to miscommunications and the wrong people viewing messages. Encourage them to stop and think for a second each time they hit ‘send’.
Simple instant messaging safety tips.
- If they’re using chat rooms, choose a non-identifiable, non-gender-specific screen name – and keep it clean.
- Avoid giving out personal details, such as your real name or email address.
- Don’t accept files or downloads from people you don’t know, including URLs.
- Be extra careful with any contact request from friends of friends or people you don’t know.
- Never arrange to meet someone IRL (In Real Life) or reveal your actual location.
- Learn how to save copies of your conversations. Use the screenshot key, or Apple key, Shift and 3.
- Don’t send mean messages or incite others to either. Remember messages you send are permanent and cannot be deleted.
- Talk to your kids about how you expect them to behave online. This can also include the type of language you expect them to use or not to. Use the “In our family we…” statement.
The top messaging services.
A social network where people can ask each other questions, anonymously. The settings can be changed so people can’t ask questions without identifying themselves. There’s a ‘report’ abuse button. Children must be over 13 to use it.
Lets users message each other for free via the Facebook site or a mobile app. It’s a great choice for parents to communicate with kids, because you can see a little message that says ‘Delivered’ or ‘Read’ when they’ve received or read your message.
An app that sends mass texts (on iPhone) or mass iMessages (on all devices) to everyone on a list (like everyone in your family, for instance). Once you create a list, you no longer have to select contacts one-by-one for a group message. Just tap on the list or group name and you’re ready to send.
A chat service designed specifically for smartphones, that uses usernames rather than phone numbers.
Free photo-sharing app where users decide how long the image will live (1-10 seconds) after it’s viewed. But – and this is very important – the image can still be captured by taking a screenshot ,or downloaded using a special app. Make sure your kids realise nothing is truly ‘private’. You have to be over 13 to use Snapchat.
Viber offers free texting, calling and photo messages between other Viber users.
WhatsApp is a mobile messaging app where users can create groups and send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages. It’s currently free of advertising.
Another smartphone-specific chat service that uses voice messages, texts, and images. It also allows group chats.
Another anonymous social network, YikYak works by allowing people to post anonymous updates that can then be viewed by people within a 16 Km radius. To support keeping the App out of schools, the YikYak team have developed “GeoFences” to limit usage of the app in schools. There is an age limit of 17 and over to use the app, viewers also can report inappropriate posts to be removed.
This is by no means a definitive list – new chat services are popping up all the time, so the advice as always is to stay involved with what your child is up to and what services they’re using. Bear in mind that many kids also chat while gaming, using the in-game chat services. Chat is everywhere!