How certain apps become popular with kids is a bit of a mystery. The best ones mix all the stuff tweens and teens love -- gossiping, hanging out, clowning around, and meeting other kids -- with an X factor that makes them go viral. Once an app gains critical mass (like, when every kid in school is on it), that's when the real fun begins. But that's where things can go wrong, too.
While recent app crazes were all about the new and novel, such as Snapchat's disappearing messages and WhatsApp's free texting, this year's social media giants mostly serve up familiar features. And though some new offerings correct safety issues of the past -- and kids are getting savvier about responsible use -- social media can still stir up drama. The ones to watch out for this year include anonymous apps, live streaming, group chatting, and friending, which bring up risks associated with giving blunt "feedback," broadcasting yourself to the internet, oversharing, and meeting strangers.
It's tough to keep up with all the latest apps kids get into. And the truth is, you don't have to know every single detail of how each one works. The most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open with your kid. Talk about their social media, ask questions -- and listen. Pay attention to anything that sounds like a red flag and dig deeper. Helping your kid learn to use social media responsibly is the most effective way to help them stay safe online.
Check out some of the apps that can potentially stir up drama in schools.
These apps allow kids to provide anonymous, unsolicited, and unmoderated feedback to other users. Anonymous apps are notorious hubs for cyberbullying because kids feel emboldened to say things they wouldn't normally. New apps in this category include safety precautions, but you should still keep an ear out for potential issues.
Kiwi. This app and website lets people ask questions of friends or all users. Posts are tagged with your location (unless you turn it off), so all the kids at one school can be on the app. The combination of anonymity and proximity led to the downfall of similar apps such as YikYak.
Sarahah. An Arabic word that translates roughly to "honesty," Sarahah lets you send anonymous comments to friends. Some teens may use it to send anonymous messages with their schoolyard crushes, but more often it's used to transmit all the mean things teens would never say to a friend's face.
TBH. Standing for "to be honest," TBH lets kids answer mostly wholesome questions about friends. The app's launch was pretty tame, but with anonymous apps' poor track record, TBH's planned chat function could get out of hand.
As with live TV, users simply aim the camera on themselves and broadcast to whomever is following them. Since there's no delay -- and kids are often streaming from their bedrooms -- there's a real risk of giving away personal or even intimate information. This kind of oversharing can make kids vulnerable to "sextortion" because users can record the live streams. If a kid reveals too much, others can use the recordings against them.
BIGO LIVE. BIGO lets users make video blogs or live stream their activities with the object of monetizing their videos and possibly becoming the next YouTube sensation. User-generated content can include bad language, violence, and nudity.
Live.me. Live.me has a racier feel than other live streamers. You'll see everything from racial slurs to kids being asked to take off their clothing. The emphasis on getting followers and fame is even embedded in the title, which may propel people into doing more outrageous acts.
YouNow. A very popular gathering place for kids, this app has its own celebrities and culture. Not only can you comment and like someone's video, but you also can buy them gold bars or other gifts, which generates money for the broadcaster.
Making New Friends
The new "friending" apps enable kids to easily connect and chat with people they don't know. While many of them rely on Snapchat or Instagram, they make it very easy to widen your circle of contacts to strangers. Friending apps also use location, so the new "friends" are all nearby, increasing the possibility of face-to-face meetings. Privacy and safety are real risks with these apps.
MyLOL. MyLOL is an app and website advertised for "teen dating" but is really meant for users over the age of 17. Users often post provocative, half-naked pictures of themselves and engage in flirty or even sexually explicit conversation. Chat topics also can include references to drug use, alcohol, or violence. Some users post their real names, IM handles, email addresses, and phone numbers.
Spotafriend. Billing itself as a Tinder alternative, this risky location-based app lets you rate other members (and lets other members rate you) by swiping left or right. It's marketed as a teen "friend" app for users age 13 to 19, but comes with a Mature 17+ rating in the app stores.
Yellow. Called "Tinder for teens," Yellow works with your Snapchat or Instagram account and similarly to Tinder in that users swipe left or right on photos to find a match. Users don't have the option to make their profile private, and your profile can be viewed by anyone in a particular radius of your real-life location.
Group Video Chatting
Group video chatting is the newfangled party line from the olden days of rotary phones. Using their webcams or phones, kids communicate with several friends at once via live video. Because there's no screening, there's always the possibility of kids sharing private information or encountering age-inappropriate content.
Airtime. Airtime has most of the same features as other video-chat platforms but with the added twists of letting users watch videos and listen to music from across the web together. They can also live stream themselves. Viewing age-inappropriate content is a big risk, since there are no filters. And Airtime's ability to create private "rooms" means kids could have one-on-one video chats with strangers.
Houseparty. Unlike FaceTime or Skype, Houseparty lets you have up to eight people in a room and have several "parties" going at once. The app makes it easy for kids to connect with people they don't know and have private conversations.
Monkey. This app randomly connects teens with other Snapchat users around the world for a 10-second video chat. As with so many social networking tools, a teen's experience will depend a lot on other users' behavior. Some users report abuse and requests for baring body parts, so it could be easy for some teens to get into trouble with this one.