Following on from our last post on smartphones and small people, let’s talk about apps – and age restrictions. (You can read that article HERE)
Did you know that a lot of the most popular apps kids use these days have age restrictions? And far from being arbitrary – they’re there for really good reasons you may not have thought about…
It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s free and advertising-free… what’s not to love about WhatsApp? And why the official 16+ age restriction? Well, it can be used as stealth chatting app. A popular way to create group chats that parents don’t often think to check, kids might meet someone on another app (like Snapchat or Instagram) and move to WhatsApp because it’s less public and less regulated by parents.
Group chat links can also be copied by group members and shared with anyone who can then click and join without any vetting. Kids can be exposed to inappropriate content and exchange inappropriate content with others. And while group texts are a big reason kids use WhatsApp, cyberbullying is also a risk.
Finally, while kids believe WhatsApp safely encrypts conversations, it does not protect them from people taking and sharing screenshots of their chats. As with every form of digital media, whatever they post, whatever private opinion or pic they share, can and will live forever.
This app has recently launched a limited version of the app for kids under the age of 13. Teens between the age of 13 and 18 are also restricted to default privacy settings that have been put in place for their protection. If your child has this app, make sure they are registered in their own name – with their correct age (not yours).
Even with these measures in place though, dangerous or provocative challenges often go viral – encouraging impressionable users to participate.
According to Snapchat’s own Terms of Service, users are supposed to be age 13 or up, and users under 18 have to verify that they’re using the app with a parent’s permission. While this is a fun and relatively safe app, kids can use it to do inappropriate things, like sexting.
Instagram & Facebook
Facebook and Instagram both require users to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account. Creating a Facebook account with false info is a violation of Facebook’s terms, including accounts registered for someone under 13.
So should your child be on any of these apps?
Apart from following the recommended age limits, a good way to manage your teen’s social media usage and/or smartphone could be to draft up a fair and safe contract.
This contract could include such points as:
- The use of this device and/or app is a privilege, not a right.
- This privilege will be taken away if any of the rules in your contract are broken.
- Rules could include: transparency and honesty with all messages sent and received (no sneaking around or trying to hide convos/apps/content), plus a time limit daily (including no devices in rooms at night when kids should be sleeping).
- Whatever your rules, make sure your child is only connected to trusted people and has some form of parental monitoring. Pay attention to your child’s emotional and physical health, friend groups, academic performance, and sleep habits – all of which can be affected by too much time on their phones and on various apps.
- Rules on privacy settings. Encourage your child to maximize settings and use the two-step verification option that allows a custom PIN for security against breaches and hacks. Privacy settings on WhatsApp for example will allow users to choose Everyone, My Contacts, and Nobody. Review profile information and omit any personal information (age, phone number, other account links, school name, hometown).
- Control location sharing. When location sharing is turned on, the images your child shares on WhatsApp will also show his or her exact location when the photo was taken. Be aware of this and consider keeping the location turned off.
- Talk with your child about the importance of only chatting with known, trusted people and blocking messages from strangers that could contain explicit content, malware, spam, or phishing scams.
Mums, how old are your kids and what restrictions do you have on phones and the apps they use?
Comment below to let us know x