If you're a parent or a grandparent, you know kids pick up the latest technology lightning fast. Of course, that means the children in your life can also be using apps and visiting sites that are totally inappropriate for their ages. Worse yet, you might not even realize it.
Let's look at five dangerous apps the children you deeply care about may be using … and why they're dangerous.
Snapchat is a picture-messaging app whose claim to fame is that the messages last only for a few seconds once they're opened, then supposedly evaporate into thin air. In theory, you can send embarrassing or risque pictures without being afraid someone will steal or distribute them.
Unfortunately, the claim that Snapchat makes it safe to send risque pictures is just plain wrong. It's way too simple for anyone to grab a screenshot of the image before it's deleted. In fact, several teenage boys have gotten in serious legal trouble over the last few years for capturing and distributing illegal photos sent to them by underage girls.
Also, last October, hackers got their hands on thousands of "deleted" Snapchat images that had been stored on third-party servers. While it wasn't exactly a breach of Snapchat, it's further proof that pictures don't always disappear.
In fairness, many teens use Snapchat for innocent picture-conversations with each other. And as Snapchat grows in popularity, the company is moving further away from its sexting association. But it's still a big concern.
If your teens are using Snapchat, ask them to show you how they're using it. Make sure they are communicating only with people they know and that they realize the pictures they send don't just vanish forever. Remind them, "Once on the Internet, always on the Internet!"
While Snapchat has uses besides sharing inappropriate images, Tinder is all about meeting new romantic partners, which probably isn't something you want your teen doing with strangers.
Tinder allows a person to create a profile and see images of potential romantic matches in the immediate area. If two people like each other, they can have a conversation through the app and potentially "hook up." Again, broadcasting images to strangers and potentially meeting them on a whim is not something teens should be doing, in my parental opinion.
Actually, underage teens aren't even supposed to be using Tinder. The only way to get on the app is to have a Facebook account with a birth date that indicates the user is 18 years old or over. Of course, children can set any birthdate they wish with a simple keyboard entry. There is no age verification.
Any child who uses the app will be meeting people who are over legal age. They might come across predators, scammers and any variety of creeps that no one should have to deal with.
In short, Tinder is dangerous for kids. Keep them away from it.
Vine, which lets you record and share six-second videos, seems like a totally safe app at first. It gets dangerous when you consider how strong peer pressure is on social media.
Teens, as I'm sure you remember, will do almost anything for acceptance and attention. And the best way to get attention on social media is to do something edgy or crazy. Last year, in the most dramatic example yet, teens across the world took to setting themselves on fire.
I'm not kidding. The #FireChallenge hashtag was one of the most popular in August. Click here for my coverage of the shocking trend. This isn't the first or last dangerous "game" to appear online. Click here to learn about seven other "games" your kids shouldn't be involved in.
In response to this, Vine just released the Vine Kids app, which features hand-selected videos that are supposed to be appropriate for younger audiences. Unlike the real Vine app, Vine Kids can't record videos. This might be good for younger kids, but I can guarantee older kids and teenagers will want to use the real Vine app.
If your kids use Vine, or any social media site, be sure to friend, follow or join them on it to monitor what they're doing and saying. You might also occasionally look at their phones to confirm which apps they have installed, or even review their activity on the site. You'll want to know if they're running with a dangerous crowd or doing something stupid or worse.
Whisper, an app built specifically for spreading rumors and secrets, lets users post pictures and text anonymously. Apps like Whisper could potentially be a good outlet for teens, as anonymous confessions can help people unburden themselves. But Whisper shares the secrets based on geographic location, so the users nearest to your child are the ones more likely to see the secret. If your child reveals too much, it can put him or in a dangerous situation with friends or adversaries.
The most dangerous apps for teens use GPS tracking to bring people physically together. Cyberbullying is much more hurtful when the person bullying your child moves from online to in-person abuse. In this case, Whisper seems like it could cause teens more harm than good.
9Gag is one of the most popular apps for distributing memes and pictures online. The risky part for teens is that all kinds of pictures are shared on 9Gag. These pictures aren't moderated and could come from any uploader and feature terrible images you don't want kids seeing.
Not only that, but some 9Gag users are cyberbullies and abuse other users online. Many of the people guilty of "swatting" — getting the police to raid an innocent person's house — come from 9Gag. Click here to learn more about swatting and how to protect your kid from becoming a victim.
If your children have to get their humor fix from somewhere, always try to make sure they're getting it from a place with rules and regulations that commit to keeping underage users protected.
If you're parenting today, here are two more important tips you might find useful:
On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.