Social Apps and Youth: Parent and Educator Information

Communication and collaboration apps are used daily in a digital world, especially among Gen Z, or youth ages 12-17.

Some of the most popular apps among young people are listed below with considerations for parents and educators to safeguard their use.

Apps can be used for creative expression but they can also negatively influence youth during the vunerable time of adolescence.

App # 1- TikTok

Tiktok is a global video-sharing social network service where creators can publish and share short videos. Videos span all genres and topics, but the platform is especially known as a place to view and share funny, short video clips.

It is a platform that continues to grow in popularity among young people. According to the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics® US Youth Survey, TikTok usage is 63% among youth ages 12-17.

Educators and parents should be aware of the dangers that TikTok presents to school-aged children if it is not monitored.

If young users are not registered correctly for their age and have full access to the platform, they could create and/or be exposed to inappropriate videos. They could be targeted with inappropriate messages or advertisements. If direct messaging is enabled, it presents the risk of bullying or inappropriate messaging.

The platform has algorithms that constantly find related content based on a user’s engagement and this is problematic for youth who may already have a difficult time putting down their device.

Young social media influencers can impact their followers in positive or negative ways. A recent medical journal article attributed an increase in physical tics in teenage girls to TikTok.

Educators and parents should put certain safeguards in place if TikTok is used at home and for teaching and learning. Adults should utilize the platform controls that set restrictions and filters for messaging and comments.

TikTok registers anyone under the age of 13 to a different experience for younger users, where they can create but not post videos. The TikTok for younger users experience does not display advertisements. TikTok has features that promote healthy resources for any keywords related to self-harm topics but this is based on algorithms and is not guaranteed users will receive accurate information.

Parents and teachers need to consistently monitor account activity and provide trusted resources for students who are looking for emotional or mental health advice. TikTok actively worked with the National PTA to develop a guide for schools and parents with information about digital safety that is accessible with the link below.

Common Sense Media Review- https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/tiktok

App # 2- Snapchat

Snapchat is an instant messaging app for ages 13 and older that allows users to take a quick photo, text or video (a “snap”) and share with a recipient for a few seconds before the snap supposedly disappears.

It is popular among tweens and teens for all of the funny photo filter effects and the ability to send messages that are intended to disappear soon after they are sent.  Snapchat usage among youth ages 12-17 according to a 2021 survey is 54%.

Educators and parents should be aware of the dangers that Snapchat presents if used by minors.

Since the app has the unique feature of “disappearing snaps” it gives students the false impression that they can safely share inappropriate pictures and no one will see it but the intended user. Snaps can easily be saved with a screenshot or by someone else taking a picture of the snap. For this reason, it’s important to teach students that anything they share across the Internet leaves a digital footprint that can be retraced back to them.

Snapchat has added new features that automatically updates and reveals a user’s location on a map. This raises additional safety concerns and requires that parents and teachers educate children about location services and the dangers of sharing real-time location with anyone other than parents or caretakers.

Educators could safely use a separate school or classroom Snapchat account for one-way communication as a fun way to broadcast class announcements or motivate students. Math or science teachers could use it as an engaging way to show concepts being used in real life. Schools could use it as a fun way to promote school events and positive school culture. School policies likely prohibit the app being used for two-way communication since that would require educators to follow students’ personal accounts.

Parents should monitor their children’s Snapchat activity and check that settings are appropriate for their child’s age and app use. Parents and educators should make sure minors understand that “stranger danger” applies to their online activity.

Snapchat provides a parent guide (link below) that fully explains the app and guidelines for using it safely. They include tips for parents to discuss with teens, such as only following friends they know and creating strong passwords.

Common Sense Media Review- https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-snapchat

Snapchat Guide for Parents- https://support.snapchat.com/en-US/article/parent-guide

App # 3-  Instagram/Instagram Reels

Instagram reels are similar to TikTok videos where creators can share short 15 second video snippets for all different purposes. They are a feature on the Instagram platform and have options for creators to add music, text and special effects. On Instagram, reels are popular for influencers using them to engage followers with their brand or products. Instagram usage is at 57% in 2021 according to the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics® US Youth Survey.

Instagram is most often used on a school-wide level for marketing and promoting positive school culture and highlighting special activities.

Parents and educators need to be aware that young people can be exposed to inappropriate photos and comments on the Instagram platform.

The app has location services that exposes a child’s real-time location unless the setting is disabled. The platform targets based on user activity and markets for purchases and products related to the photos or videos being viewed.

It’s especially important for parents of teen girls to know that studies report users feeling “unattractive’ and “not good enough” that started on Instagram.

 Parents should monitor their child’s Instagram Reels activity and actively manage the account settings. Parents and educators should be sure comments have filter settings enabled for layers of protection or that they are turned off altogether.

Teens need to know the tools available on the platform to block, report, and safely communicate with others. Parents should be aware of any changes in their child’s behavior or appearance and have honest conversations about social media and self-image.

Common Sense Media Review- https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/instagram

Instagram Parent Guide- https://about.instagram.com/community/parents

App # 4- YouTube/YouTube Shorts

Google’s new YouTube Shorts make it easy for anyone to create short vertical videos up to 60 seconds in length with their smartphone and quickly post them to YouTube. These videos remain public and accessible to anyone as long as the link is public.

According to a recently published survey, YouTube is the most used platform among youth ages 12-17 at 72% weekly use. YouTube is a popular source for information and is widely used in homes and classrooms by kids of all ages for both entertainment and educational purposes.

Many parents have found out that kids can easily become addicted to YouTube, especially with the algorithm constantly showing suggested videos based on user behavior.

YouTube is basically a video search engine and this leaves kids exposed to random searches that can lead to inappropriate content. YouTube serves a lot of ads and some are not appropriate for children despite being on a channel that may be kid friendly content.  

Another danger of YouTube is kids being exposed to explicit language in the video comments. 

Parents and educators must preview content and ensure safety filters are set to protect students from being exposed to inappropriate content on YouTube.

Parents have options to create a separately managed YouTube Kids account or a supervised experience. Most schools have content filters that help reduce the chance that students are exposed to inappropriate content but it is not always foolproof and requires educators to preview material.

Screen time limits are important to help keep a healthy balance of time spent online and offline.

Common Sense Media Review- https://www.commonsensemedia.org/website-reviews/youtube

YouTube Parent Guide- https://support.google.com/youtubekids/?hl=en#topic=6130504

App # 5- Messenger Kids

Messenger is instant messaging owned by Facebook that works with our without a Facebook account.

Messenger kids was developed and designed for kids ages 6-12 to give younger students a place to chat where parents control and monitor all activity.

Messenger Kids has a lot of safety and filter features built in to the platform since it was designed with younger kids in mind. Parents have to decide if their kids have a need for this type of app and set guidelines in place for when and with whom it can be used.

Messenger would likely be exclusive to home and personal use as educators often use one-way apps such as Remind 101 to send instant messages and reminders to parents.

Although Messenger offers parents complete control for monitoring the activity, time limits would need to be set for using the app.

Parents would also need to clearly state and approve who kids can send messages to and talk about what to do if they encounter someone they don’t know or receive an inappropriate message.

Messenger Parent Guide- https://www.facebook.com/messenger_kids_marketing/parent-resources