Apr 03, 2019

Teen girl sitting in chair using dangerous messaging apps on smartphone

Keeping track of what your children are doing on their smartphones at all times is a huge task since new apps are being created regularly and it can be difficult to know if they are safe. Since kids are now spending a large portion of their time on social media and messaging apps, it means that they are always in communication with others. Unfortunately, some of their favorite ways to keep up with friends, might turn out to be some of the most dangerous apps they could be using.

One of the most alarming things about your child’s phone use is that some of the apps on their phones can be a gateway through which online predators, strangers and bullies may enter their lives. The best way to protect your children is to arm yourself with information, so let’s take a look at some of the most dangerous apps for kids.

As parents, we work endlessly to ensure the safety of our kids. We check in on them while they’re out, teach them important lessons, and keep an eye on them whenever we can. But what about their digital lives?

Parents looking for a solution to ease these worries and to gain visibility into how their kids are using their smartphones should consider using Net Nanny®parental controls. Net Nanny provides parents with the tools they need to manage their child’s screen time, including the #1-rated Internet filter, the ability to block apps, and much more. For those parents wishing to keep an eye on what their kids are doing while they’re glued to their phones, Net Nanny can be key to unlocking your child’s online world.

Why Parents Need to Know About Dangerous Messaging Apps

Not every messaging app that your child might be using will put them in harm's way or allow them to be reachable by Internet strangers. That being said, for many teens the allure of group and anonymous messaging apps is strong. Teens want to keep up with their friends constantly as not staying in touch can lead to social media FOMO. Anonymous or not, messaging apps can make kids feel safer and bolder, leading them to divulge too much information, participate in cyberbullying, or even make risky decisions.

Dangerous messaging apps usually have a few features in common that are clear indicators for parents that they are not safe for their kids. These include features that may pose a risk to your children including: anonymous messaging, the ability to chat with strangers, and self-destructing messages, photos, and videos.

These sort of features could allow your child to hide important things from you and could potentially get them into a surprising amount of trouble involving cyberbullying, sexting, Internet predators, and more. Kids and teens who make mistakes while online or need help with an unsafe situation may be too embarrassed to broach the subject with parents which is why it is important to avoid apps and platforms that could endanger your kids in the first place.

Learn more about 8 dangerous messaging apps your kids might be using:

  1. Kik

    Kik is a messaging app that allows your kids to send group and private messages and is continually making headlines as it is one of the most dangerous apps for teens. It is important to know that Kik limits how many recent messages are saved, saving only a certain number within 48 hours and older, making it difficult for parents to monitor their child’s chats. Kik also makes it very difficult to identify both the sender and receiver of messages as there is no profile verification. Although this app is extremely popular for kids under the age of 18, it is also very popular with sexual predators.

    Kik has had a problem with child exploitation on the app since it’s creation and is still making headlines concerning this in April 2019. Not only have children been exposed to mature content, but there are numerous inappropriate chat rooms, cases of child predators using the app to contact children, and even child pornography.

  2. Snapchat

    Snapchat is popular among teens and adults alike as a fast-paced photo sharing and messaging app. The app allows you to send photos, videos, or messages to other users with a set amount of viewing time. After that time expires or the user navigates away from the message, it self-destructs, and cannot be seen again.

    What many teens fail to remember is that even though these are self-destructing, receivers are able to take screenshots of what they are sent. Snapchat will notify you if someone takes a screenshot of a photo or video you’ve sent them, but there is no way to prevent them from disseminating this to others. These screenshots can act as potentially devastating fuel for cyberbullying, should your teen mistakenly share too much about themselves or someone else.

  3. Ask.fm

    Ask.fm is a social networking site that uses a question and answer format, allowing teens to learn more about their friends and peers as well as people from all over the world. Seemingly innocuous, Ask.fm is being used by teens to abuse and bully others, made easier by the fact that there is no filtration or moderation of the content and questions being asked.

    Ask.fm created enough problems with cyberbullying and mental health that the U.K’s former Prime Minister, David Cameron, urged parents to not let their children use the app. With it’s lack of adequate privacy settings and content moderation, as well as an anonymity factor, Ask.fm has been linked to teen suicides around the globe and parents should be hesitant to allow their kids to use this app.

    Parents and teens should know that the app did create the Ask.fm Safety Center in 2014 with resources available in order to combat the negative and toxic environment that was growing within the platform.

  4. Whisper

    Another anonymous messaging app that parents will want to be on the lookout for is Whisper. The Whisper app allows users to connect in groups based upon their interests and location in order to confess secrets. While the app is rated 17+, Whisper still allows users aged 15-17 to use the platform. Posts in this app are called “whispers” and users can sift through topics and then reply publicly or direct message the poster.

    What makes Whisper one of the most dangerous apps for kids are the anonymous features as well as the location-based grouping. Pair that with the ability for other local anonymous users to direct message your children and you’ve got the perfect recipe for your child to be in contact with an online predator.

  5. Blendr

    Blendr is an online dating app that allows users to message, exchange photos and videos, and rate the “hotness” of other users, based upon the user’s GPS location. This poses an obvious issue for teens and tweens who are basing their identity and self-esteem on the feedback they receive from their peers. Although Blendr is rated for adults, there is no age verification, so your children can potentially have exchanges with adults through this app. As with any other dating app, parents should ensure their kids are not using Blendr.

  6. WhatsApp

    WhatsApp is a messaging service that lets users exchange unlimited text, audio, photo and video messages. What makes WhatsApp one of the most dangerous apps for teens is that interactions are on a platform other than their phone, meaning teens can have exchanges that are not saved on their phones (and reviewed by parents).

    Parents should know that WhatsApp can be used through the app or via any web browser and that this messaging app offers end-to-end encryption. This end-to-end encryption enables users to create a code that is required to unlock and read each message.

  7. GroupMe

    GroupMe is a popular group messaging app that many kids and teens are using. While it’s less likely that this app will put your kids in touch with strangers outside of their friend circles, the group messaging features make it difficult to keep up with who your kids are in contact with.

    Chatting with a large number of people at one time also makes it difficult to ensure that conversations are appropriate. Kids will likely need to be reminded that they should be mindful about what they say and how they participate in group chats as they can easily become a participant or victim in cyberbullying.

  8. Chatous

    Chatous is a messaging app that randomly matches users with others from all over the world which makes it unsafe for children and teens. This app is specifically designed to put users in contact with strangers and allows them to send disappearing messages meaning that parents would have no way of overseeing use of this app.

    Many users on Chatous are there to be flirty with strangers and there is no content moderation outside of the block and report features available to users. Popular complaints include the fact there have been users that pretend to be a member of the opposite gender and that many users have received lewd photos and videos from other chatters.

How to Tell if an App is Safe for Kids

It’s hard enough to keep up with the apps that your kids are downloading on their phones, but deciphering if an app is appropriate for your kids adds another challenging layer to digital parenting. The first thing you should do when making decisions about the apps that are allowed on your child’s devices is to learn more about them. App names, icons, and even a cursory view of app descriptions in the app stores can still leave users questioning it’s capabilities and uses.

Net Nanny’s App Advisor is vital for parents who want to better understand the apps that their kids are using. Using the App Advisor, you can learn more about what an app is and why it is or isn’t safe for your kids, with clear callouts for questionable features like live streaming, location tracking, interactions with strangers, and mature content.

In addition to checking out the App Advisor and learning more in the app store, your next best bet is to rely on your own instincts and talk to your friends if an app doesn’t immediately seem safe. Download the app on your own device to test it out, check out the features it offers, explore the privacy options it provides, and consider the maturity levels of your child. Reach out to other parents to find out if their family has any experience with the app and if they can weigh in. Understanding the app and getting a full picture of how your child will be using it will help you determine if an app is safe for your kids.

How Net Nanny Helps You Block Dangerous Apps

Utilizing Net Nanny’s parental controls and consulting the App Advisor can help you manage your child’s screen time and remain well-informed. With Net Nanny, you are given visibility into what apps your kids are downloading and using each day. Also with Net Nanny’s app blocking features, you can block inappropriate or unwanted apps and see how much time your kids are spending using specific apps.

Arm yourself with information to stay in-the-know of popular apps that your child may be drawn to, but that could also be potentially harmful to them. Installing a parental control software, like Net Nanny, that includes a feature to block apps that are downloaded by your kids can help ensure their safety.

Lauren B. Stevens

Lauren B. Stevens is a freelance writer and influential blogger. She is passionate about social media and literature.