Editor's note: The following post by Kristen Thompson originally appeared on her blog, Blood, Sweat and Cheers! It has been shared here with the author's permission.
I will get some criticism for writing about this, but it's important for all parents to hear. And when I say "All," I mean ALL, even those with babies and younger children. You need to know what is in store for you because it's only going to get worse.
Sorry in advance, kids. To parents, you're welcome. Listen up!
My boys would probably say I'm a bit crazy when it comes to their phones and iPods. Maybe not even "a bit," but just downright crazy. I have reason. I have multiple reasons. I have four reasons ranging in the ages of 10 to 19. While I try not to invade privacy, these are my children and I have the right to invade. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyhow. When they turn 18, I stop invading. Yes, my 19-year-old is now breathing a massive sigh of relief, but it doesn't mean he can act-a-fool without getting feedback.
Cell phones are a blessing and a curse. I grew up without one. My kids have a hard time believing that I made it until I was 20 before I had a cell phone. And then it was their dad's bag phone. My first official cell phone was the monster that had a 20-pound battery attached and looked like a VCR with an antenna stuck to the side of your face. I carried that sucker proudly around in my purse (leaving no room in my purse for anything else, mind you). And when I'd get a call, I'd excitedly heave it out of my bag, screw on the antenna, press on the green button 15 times to answer it and stand against a window for reception. Once the call started, I knew I only had a select few minutes to chat because cellular phone charges were highway robbery. I think my first plan was in-state only, and it charged me per minute during the day, but it was free nights and weekends. By the evening or weekend, I was so tired from carrying it around, I'd just tell people to call me on my house phone anyway.
I'm almost 40 and have been active in the last 20 years of cell phone evolution. The plans are more reasonable, and the phones are small and lightweight, so one would say that it's improved since 1993.
This "one" would say no, it hasn't ...
I'd like to rewind cell phone technology back about 10 years with, still, the better plans, but the simple flip phone. No texting, no apps, just calls. Remember that time where you actually used a phone to call people? There's a concept, kids! I could go on a tangent about how much more personal and important it is to actually speak to a person, but this is not my rant today. My rant is focused elsewhere. I'm here to enlighten my fellow moms and dads on apps — these little things our kids say "Hey, Mom, can I buy such-n-such for 99 cents?" And the parent busy with something else acknowledges and may or may not make a mental note of "Junior just downloaded the game SnapChat." Guess what, Mom: SnapChat is NOT a game. And guess what else? Most of the "dangerous" apps are FREE!
I had a MySpace page before my kids even knew what it was. When my eldest turned 12, he asked to have one. His dad and I reluctantly agreed under several stipulations: We set it up with kid controls. We knew the password at all times. And we would be checking it. Weekly. Daily. Whenever we darn well pleased. Then Facebook came along, and Myspace disintegrated into cyber air. Like the rest of the world, he migrated over to Facebook, as did I. Same rules applied. Then Twitter came along. Kids left FB in their dust. This mom opened a Twitter account. Instagram followed. Mom followed. Notice the trend? But then things got tricky. Some of the open forum format changed to apps that you'd have to be invited to, to apps that were just between two people, to apps that take a quick photo and within seconds it disappears in cyber space to never be traced. That app? Snapchat. While I could somewhat regulate social networks (and sometimes not successfully. Mom-stalking isn't fool proof), these other apps had this mom stumped. While investigating on what I could see, I was dumbfounded by some of things kids were posting for the world to see. Where are these kids' parents? Do they know? Do they care? Am I breaking a mom-to-mom unsaid law by not informing them? I WANT to know. You better tell me, fellow parents! I will knock a Mann kid out. Look, I've seen things my kids have posted that have made me go "Woah! Oh no he didn't!!" They have had posts removed, comments removed, pictures removed, accounts deactivated, phones taken, iPods taken, phone service disconnected. Yes, we went there. They know what is acceptable and what is not.
Simply put: If you post something that you'd be embarrassed for your mom to see, don't post it. THAT's my rule. Like or not, you break it, we're going to rumble.
This leads me to alerting parents who are unaware of the unsaid convenience of not only texting but sharing pics, videos, etc. I'm not aiming usage of these at just teens but sadly preteens and children under the age of 10 as well. Many times they stumble upon something innocently, whether it's their peer cursing, borderline inappropriate content and even outright TRASH. My 10-year-old has a texting app on his iPod. He is not allowed to have a phone, but we agreed to let him have an app to text me, his dad, his brothers and his stepparents. If he wants to call a friend, he can use my phone. He also has an Instagram account where photos and now videos are shared. I can see who he follows and what they post. I've unfollowed a dozen or more of his older brothers' friends unbeknownst to him because of their inappropriate posting and language. I am THIS CLOSE to deleting everyone but family and his 10-year-old friends. My 13-, 15- and 19-year-olds have/had KIK, Vine, SnapChat, ooVoo and the usual suspects — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. At least if you're going to let your children have these apps, be informed:
Facebook and Twitter are social networks. If you don't know what they are, you need to be hit on the head with a hammer. Both social networks have inboxes. Check them regularly, parents. Don't assume your kid is making great decisions if you don't see anything on their "Wall." Word to the wise, have them access Twitter from your iPhone and now ALL notifications come to you automatically, even inbox messages. Know their passwords. Always.
Instagram: Pros — fun place to share videos and photos. No inbox feature, so everything is "out there."
Cons — if you don't keep up with who your kid is following, you're being naïve. My 10-year-old has 13-,15-, 19-year-old brothers who all have friends with Instagram accounts. The chances of him seeing or reading something above his 10-year-old sweet, innocent brain are great. Know their passwords and check Followers and what they post. Regularly. Unfollow, delete, block, unfollow, delete, block. Repeat.
Vine: Don't let the description — "The best way to share life in motion. Create short, beautiful looping videos in a simple and fun way" — mislead you. These looping videos can actually be a lot of fun to share. My oldest son has made some hilarious ones, but vine does not regulate rated G vs. rated X. If your kid has a Vine account or follows someone who posts Vine videos, WATCH THEM. Vine doesn't know or care if it's a 21-year-old adult or an 8-year-old kid on the receiving end. And remember, even if they don't have the Vine app, if the person posts them to Twitter and your kid follows them from their Twitter account, they can watch them there.
KIK: Instant Messenger. Basically if you don't know a person well enough to know their phone number to text or call them, you can KIK them. My mindset, if you don't know them "that well," you don't need to chat with them about anything. Ever.
User Reviews on Google for KIK:
"This app is awesome and cool my kik is ________. Kik me no guys jst girls from Detroit. I'm 15. Hit me up."
I purposely did not post this person's KIK name, but I can tell you if I see my 15-year-old's KIK name on FREAKING GOOGLE for someone to "hit him up" he's going to get "hit up" alright. Hit right upside the head with his iPhone before I crush it into 10,000 pieces. And who's to say this is a 15-year-old kid and not some 42-year-old creep living in his mother's basement preying on young girls? Yes, I may have watched one too many episodes of "20/20," but that stuff is real, folks!
"Definitely a great app if you don't like giving people your number. It's just like texting someone. 27-year-old woman looking for friends. KIK is _____________"
What if that 27-year-old woman "looking for friends" is KIKing your 11-year-old son?
I will say KIK isn't horrible if you manage it and know who they're talking to.
ooVoo: "ooVoo video chat gives you two things no one else can." (Now THERE's a wide open statement.) "Free multistream video calls with up to 12 people at a time along with unsurpassed stability and quality." This is the equivalent to FaceTime for iPhone users, and Skype. Be the mom or dad peeping over from behind the dresser to make sure there's a recognized person on the other end. And they are age appropriate. And clothed. Better yet, pop a squat beside your kid and say, "What up, home dog?" While it may deduct a few parental cool points, it'll start to deter the caller to have these ooVoo conversations for fear she'll have to speak to your super embarrassing mother.
And last, but certainly not least, SnapChat. Don't let that cute little ghost fool you. The official description says, "The fastest way to share a moment on iPhone." Pictures/videos are created, an alert is sent to the receiver, they watch it and within 10 seconds its gone. No record, no trace. Parents, THINK ABOUT IT.
Snapchat is bad news folks. My advice is to delete the app if you see it. Period. If they have an iPhone and want to make a video, they can with the iPhone camera or now they can do it on Instagram, which has supposedly regulated their site not to post inappropriate videos. We shall see ...
A new app is released quicker than you can blink. And I find that if weren't for my parental stalking, I'd be completely clueless to all the new ways kids are connecting and sharing information. There are tons I did not cover, but these are the teen faves. The fiancé and I have 4 teens with smartphones, and two 10-year-olds with iPod touches. Six multiplied by these apps equals A LOT to keep up with. (OK, five since my oldest has graduated to a non-stalking mom. My eyes are still open in the public forum). In this day and age, we, as parents, have to look out for our kids and for each other. I seriously long for the day that my biggest parental concern was cars coming down the street while they rode bikes. I could see in clear view the danger. Technology blinds us to danger, a danger of kids growing up a little fast, knowing more than they should at a young age, and exchanging inappropriate information for it to only *POOF* disappear within a 10-second window and we are none the wiser. Don't be the parent who thinks, "My kid would never do that."
I'm the unpopular mom who takes her kids phone and iPod at bedtime (even during the summer) and plugs them in my room. As recently as last night, I got the big SIGH when I asked my 13-year-old for his phone. When he's 18, he can Vine, Snapchat, tweet, and KIK all he wants. He just better hope it doesn't cross a public forum that I see it. Just because they are bigger, doesn't mean I still won't knock a Mann kid out.
I now stand to be on the Most Hated list by kids because of this blog, but as I've seen many post on Twitter after saying something painful but true: