Last year at this time tweens and teens were talking about or playing Fortnite, much to the chagrin of many parents. There is always new technology, especially when it comes to what our kids are playing or watching. This is why I encourage parents not to have rules or boundaries for a specific game or app, but to teach their children how to be good digital citizens and how to manage their screen use. While Snapchat and Instagram are still the most popular apps among teens, there are a few others that have captured the attention of a younger demographic. Here are three apps your kids may be begging for and what parents need to know.
Formerly known as Musical.ly, TikTok is a video-sharing app primarily showcasing lip-synching and dances to famous songs, and the app collects “likes” and “followers.” Technically, you have to be 13 to get an account, but many have figured out a way around this. My concern is there is no way to filter what you see, and there is a lot of iffy content ranging from language to provocative dancing. My daughter has a private account, which limits who can see what she posts, but there is pressure for a public account to get more followers and likes, so it is important to talk to your children about what they are posting and who can see it.
This app is not all bad — it can be a lot of fun. We had a family TikTok challenge this summer to see who could make the best video — none were posted, but we had a lot of fun making them, and it was a great example of how technology can be experienced as a family.
CLASH OF CLANS
This 2013 game has recently reemerged in popularity. It is a multiplayer online strategy game that is free to play, but beware of the lure of in-app purchases of resources that allow you to upgrade quicker. Players must be at least 13 and need a guardian to agree to the terms, but this is an honor system so unfortunately this step is often bypassed.
To play, you start by building a community (your clan), then you train troops and attack other players to attain resources such as gold and elixir. You then use these items to upgrade buildings that will help you to defend your town or community. In one of my “tech fails” this summer, I let my 6-year-old download the app without my researching it. A few days later after he was sufficiently addicted, I went on Common Sense Media and realized they recommend the game for children 13 and over. I don’t often make this mistake, but it is one that once made, is hard to reverse — not impossible but much harder.
YouTube continues to gain popularity with kids. It is where they are getting their news, watching how-to videos, or watching other people play their favorite video games. Because all the content is user-generated, there is no way to filter or control what your kids see. You never know what is going to pop up next in an ad or the next video. And just last month YouTube was fined a record $170 million for illegally collecting personal information from children without their parents’ consent and using that information in targeted advertising campaigns.
But YouTube also isn’t all bad. Just last week I watched a video to fix an issue with my dishwasher, which saved me from calling a plumber. There are some parental controls you can use, but they don’t filter out everything. It’s best to know what your kids are watching and when possible to watch with them. My son loves to watch “epic fails” and my daughter is interested in some fashion and skincare tutorials. These are painful for me to watch, but the app did spark some creativity this summer when they both made their own vlogging videos ranging from how to mountain bike, how to braid hair, and a video tour of our vacation. None of them were posted for the outside world, but it was fun and made them each feel like a YouTube star without actually being one.
The best thing parents can do is set limits, ask questions about how our kids are using screen time, and then hope and pray we have given them all the tools to make smart decisions. This is especially true when it comes to shared pictures and videos, reminding them that what they are putting out there is forever — even if they tell you it goes away in 30 seconds.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]