The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX


June 11, 2013

Kik, Snapchat too private for parents, children



Many are turning from “sharing” on social media giant Facebook to “exploring” on photo sharing application Instagram. This move could lead to many problems with America’s youth.

Traditional social media like Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus inhabit a saturated market of conversation. Though slowly, users are starting to spring a leak.

Social media tracking company SocialBakers found in early December 2012, 1.7 million users jumped ship. Many of those are now turning to more rapid sharing social medias like Instagram, Kik, Keek, Vine and Snapchat.

Instagram is the most like traditional social media allowing users to comment and like their favorite images. Kik and Snapchat are basic messaging applications that have no permanent user interaction.

In addition, it’s an interaction between only two individuals, or group texts. Definitely not easily seen by outside eyes.

Parents — you have been warned.

Kik and Snapchat on their own are harmless ways for teens to send funny pictures to each other. However, there is a down side.

Traditional social media has a type of permanency that allows parents to log in and see what their teen has been up to, or check in from their own accounts. Things don’t easily disappear.

The only way parents can make sure nothing fishy is going on with their children when using the new social media is to literally stand behind them while it’s being used. Snapchat messages aren’t visible once the time expires on the pictures and Kik messages are easily erasable.

Unfortunately, underage children are being exposed to adult themes at younger ages. Twitter’s Vine (video), another up-and-coming service, has been under scrutiny as being an outlet for porn.

Thanks to Tumblr, Snapchat has gotten attention for this after a classy page called “Snapchat Sluts” (since shut down) showed pictures girls sent over the app in different stages of undress., a web-survey group, studied 18- to 29-year-olds to assess how much they “sext” (or send explicit messages). Not surprisingly, almost a quarter of respondents said they’ve done so through text and more than 13 percent said they do it on Snapchat. It’s reasonable to estimate that Kik has the same, if not worse problems because it’s so similar to text messaging.

Parents first wanted their children to have more privacy online, which is a reasonable request. However, increased privacy controls that are default in these new forms of social media make it extremely difficult to find others. This is an excellent feature for protection from pedophiles or stalkers, but not good for parents.

It’s hard to be Big Brother if  children remotely set the privacy settings. Parents can feel safe knowing random users can’t easily access their kids profiles, but they need to be aware that it becomes more difficult to monitor their behavior.

Instagram does protect users from pornographic material due to protections for kids of younger ages.

But these applications have other issues aside from the X-rated material.

They further inhibit personal communication. Seems counterintuitive but communication experts say social media breaks down the ability for children to communicate person-to-person.

At the point all children have to do is snap a picture or video or type a quick message it’s easy to lose touch with reality.

This sounds far-fetched but it’s what happened when texting popped up. People of all ages are texting more then calling someone on the phone than ever before.

Traditional forms of social media still provided a variety of communication methods with video, images, written, instant chat, groups, lists, forums, discussion boards, etc. It also allowed users to find each other easily.

This isn’t to say that the applications aren’t without their merit and should be abolished from tween use. They are an incredibly user-friendly way for kids to stay in touch with their friends without running up the phone bill.

Online communication is the wave of the future so it is important for parents to allow their children some form of access to these devices and applications so they aren’t falling behind their peers.

The best thing for parents to do is to keep in touch with their children and ask questions. Make sure their children are aware of the dangers of the Internet, but not to restrain them too much.

The online world is a gateway to creativity.  Parents need to be aware of the risks involved but also not to be afraid to let their children explore the tools on the new horizon.

Stephen Green is a part-time staff reporter for The Huntsville Item and editor-in-chief of The Houstonian, the newspaper serving Sam Houston State University. This article was written as part of his ongoing column, "DigiTalk".

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