So now that all of the adults have shown up on Facebook, parents might need to look elsewhere to find their children on social media.
Think of bees buzzing around a hive as a good metaphor to describe teens' relationship with social media and other sites where they connect online, away from parents' eyes.
As soon as the grown-ups arrive on a given site, teens and preteens will swarm to a new one. But it's not impossible to know where they are. By asking questions, understanding the sites and joining them, parents can figure out ways to protect their children from cyberbullying, inappropriate and suggestive behavior, etc., as they migrate from service to service.
“You don't need to know the ins and outs of every app and site that's ‘hot' right now,” writes Kelly Schryver, senior content specialist for Common Sense Media, in her blog post “11 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to After Facebook” at commonsensemedia.org. “But knowing the basics — what they are, why they're popular and the problems that can crop up when they're not used responsibly — can make the difference between a positive and negative experience for your kids.”
Refer to a story in The Oklahoman today by my colleague Tim Willert for information about cyberbullying trends among kids who use these sites. But here's a quick primer on where the teens and preteens have gone beyond Facebook:
For starters, they're using Instagram, a site that I love sharing and enjoy, from a photography standpoint, with my children. Posting photos to Instagram and going on photo walks to take them have made Instagram a fun, creative activity that we do together.
Many of today's teens use Instagram to link to their ask.fm profile, a website and mobile app that lets people pose anonymous questions to them. At its best, they're answering questions on this site about latest crushes or activities; at its worst, the site features mean comments, suggestive language and horrible gossip. Think of the worst anonymous Internet trolls and imagine their hateful comments directed at a specific teen at your child's school. I'm not sure I see an upside to ask.fm, other than for teens because there seems to be no adult supervision. I do see a lot of comments that would be a blow to a middle-schooler's fragile self esteem.
Another popular current mobile app includes Snapchat, used to send texted photos that self-destruct in seconds when the recipient opens it. The assumption is that these photos are gone forever, but people have found ways around this process. There are many stories about teens using this app for sexting, but they should know that nothing posted via the Internet ever truly disappears.
Teens are also “kiking” each other, or sending texts, via the Kik Messenger text-messaging service that welcomes group texts and isn't tied to a phone number but a user name. The text messages don't live on the phone but inside the app. There also are ways to connect to strangers from within it, as Schryver notes.
Schryver mentions more sites where the teens are, including Wanelo, Oovoo, Pheed, Vine, Tumblr, Twitter and Google Plus. Some of these I use; some are unfamiliar.
As a parent of middle- and elementary-school students, I find it hard to keep up — and to find the balance between letting my children learn how to use these tools that are a natural part of their world and protecting them from harm.
Sites such as Instagram offer me a neat glimpse of my kids' unique perspective on friends, food, experiences and thoughts. But I try to steer them clear from posts like “comment on this post if you like me/love me/hate me/want to date me,” which I have seen.
Using some of these sites together keeps us talking about the good ones and ones to avoid. Those conversations and standards will be different for each family, but it helps me to understand what they're actually doing on their smartphones and computers.
“The bottom line for all of these tools? If teens are using them respectively, appropriately and with a little parental guidance, they should be fine,” Schryver writes. “Take inventory of your kid's apps and review the best practices.”