If you have been following the news this week, I'm sure you have seen the disturbing story of how two 12-year-old girls stabbed their "friend" nineteen times...all to impress a website character called "Slender Man". 12-years-old!!!
I have never heard of "Slender Man" or the website, creepypasta, which is where the two girls say they learned of the fictional character, who they believed to be real. (My oldest daughter, Hollie, says that "Slender Man" is a game. She demonstrated it to me, and as an adult, I don't get it.) Here is a picture of "Slender Man".
This tragic incident, fictional character, and website got me to thinking: "how many other potentially dangerous websites/apps are our tweens/teens visiting that we know nothing about?" After doing some research, I came across an article on checkup daily concerning seven dangerous apps that parents need to be aware of:
- Yik Yak – This App is new and considered one of the most dangerous apps, because it allows users to post text-only Yaks of up to 200 characters. The messages can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking. Users are exposed to – and contributing - sexually explicit content, abusive language, and personal attacks so severe that schools are starting to block the App on their Wi-Fi. Although the posts are anonymous, tweens/teens start revealing personal information as they get more comfortable with other users. The GPS tracking makes it easier for sexual predators to locate potential victims.
- SnapChat – This App allows users to send photos that will disappear after ten seconds. Once the recipient opens the picture, the timer starts. Then it’s gone from both the sender's phone and the recipient’s phone. However, the recipient can take a screen shot of the photo and have it to share with others. This App enables tweens/teens to feel more comfortable “sexting” with peers.
- KiK Messenger – This is a private messenger app and is used by those under eighteen. The App allows tweens/teens to send private messages that their parents can’t see. There is very little you can do to verify the identity of someone on KiK, which poses the risk of sexual predators chatting with your child. And again, this is an easy tool for sexting.
- Poof –The Poof App allows users to make Apps disappear on their phone with one touch. Tweens/teens can hide every app they don’t want you to see on their phone. All they have to do is open the App and select the ones they don’t want you to see. Very scary! The good news is it is no longer available, which isn't uncommon for these types of Apps. But, if it was downloaded before it was deleted from the App store, your child may still have it, and there are similar ones being created constantly. Some other names include: Hidden Apps, App Lock, and Hide It Pro.
- Omegle – This App has been around since 2008, with video chat added in 2009. When you use Omegle, you do not identify yourself through the service – chat participants are only identified as “You” and “Stranger”. You don't have to register for the App. However, you can connect Omegle to your Facebook account to find chat partners with similar interests. When choosing this feature, an Omegle Facebook App will receive your Facebook “likes” and try to match you with a stranger with similar likes. There is a high risk for sexual predators, and you don’t want your tweens/teens giving out their personal information, much less even talking to strangers.
- Whisper – This is a meeting App that encourages users to post secrets. You post anonymously, but it displays the area you are posting from. You can search for users posting within a mile from you. A quick look at the App, and you can see that online relationships are forming constantly on this App, but you never know the person behind the computer or phone. (One man in Washington was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl he met on this App just last year.)
- Down – This application, which used to be called “Bang with Friends,” is connected to Facebook. Users can categorize their Facebook friends in one of two ways: they can indicate whether or not a friend is someone they'd like to hang with or someone they are "down" to hook up with. The slogan for the App: “The anonymous, simple, fun way to find friends who are down for the night.” Again, this is scary.
As parents, it seems we can never let our guard down, because there is always something (App, website, etc.) that grabs our children's attention. That is why, as I've said before, we have to regularly check our tween/teen's cellphone (and computer/laptop/tablet or other device) to see what Apps/websites they are visiting.
"Please note: You can turn location services or GPS off on cell phones by going in to the device settings. This will keep the Apps and photos from posting the exact location or whereabouts of the phone user."
How often do you check your tween/teen's phone or other device? Comment below!
*As written by Kristin Peaks, Senior Digital & Social Media specialist at Cook Children’s