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Where Is Your Teen Hanging Out in 2014?

Click the links below to learn more about the apps our teens are using…

Instagram is a photo editing and sharing app is crazy popular with teenage girls who love their selfies. This app allows users to edit and post photos taken on their phone, and the images are publicly visible by default. Privacy settings are critical here because there are whole communities dedicated to displaying images of minors in sexually suggestive poses that are not technically pornography. Not to be paranoid, but innocent vacation pictures could end up in a forum for a pedophiles.  Click on this link to learn more about the app and how you can help your child stay safe: Instagram Parent Help Center

Twitter offers quick connection with anyone in the world. Users post updates in 140 characters or less. They can follow and be followed, as well as block other users from seeing what they post, but parents can also see what kids are posting without connecting, so long as they are not blocked. Because images can be posted, all the same dangers of Instagram apply. Remember, too, that if your teen doesn’t want you to see their posts, they can simply start a new account and not tell you about it.

Vine users create and post 6-second videos, which are often also shared on Twitter and Facebook. Expect plenty of inappropriate content here including enough sex and drugs to earn the app a 17+ rating in the iTunes Store. With an unverified confirmation of the age requirement, users are ready to post video. Blocking who watches the video requires constant vigilance to make sure videos are not shown to strangers.

Tumblr enables blogging for those afflicted with a short attention span. Of course, teens love it. Photo, audio, and video posts are often re-shared from other sites with very little text. Tumblr’s big attraction is the ability to create collections of media that quickly and powerfully express the poster’s personality. Beware of the anorexia communities popular on Tumblr glorifying images of frighteningly thin young girls and women.  You can find information for parents here.

Kik is a smartphone messenger system where users send videos and images instead of text and is hugely popular with teens. Think emojis on steroids. With 100 million users, this instant-messaging app is similar to texting but offers some of the same features that social networking sites do such as photo and file sharing and group chat. The app has no parental controls and prides itself on being an app that allows users to stay constantly connected with their friends anytime, anywhere. You can learn more about issues that might concern parents here.

Snapchat allows users to send messages, primarily photos and videos that are destroyed seconds after they have been received. This service is marketed to teens with “capture the moment” messaging, and plays on its contrast to Facebook, which archives every post and pic for years. Snapchat’s fleeting image feature offers users the illusion of anonymity, but screenshots can be taken. The biggest risk here is sending inappropriate content thinking it can’t be used against them. If your kids have the judgment of politicians, they could get into trouble.  Learn more here.

Pheed allows users to share all forms of digital content in 420 character or less. Teens are the primary users of Pheed, which is one of the top apps in the iPhone store. Each user gets their own channel where they can post their content publicly or privately. In addition to the social media aspects like Facebook, Pheed is a full service broadcast medium. Users can share audio tracks and live broadcasts. Your teenager could conceivably live-stream every waking moment on Pheed. Here is more info about Pheed.

Ask.fm is a site where you sign up with a basic profile and picture, and then answer questions posed to you by other users, both friends and strangers. While "Isn't social studies class the worst?" and "Who do you have a crush on?" are common threads, darker and more sexual questions show up as well. Ask.fm has been in the news lately after several young girls, members of the site, committed suicide after being harassed both online and offline.

“It can seem overwhelming to keep up with teens’ online lives, but take some comfort in knowing that yours is probably not active in all of these networks. As sophisticated as the technology is, and as fast as it changes, communicating with teenagers still comes down to real life conversations.  And maybe a little snooping around on their phones. “   ----Lela Davidson, author of “Blacklisted from the PTA”

Lela Davidson at Today.com

Alyse Lorber@Forbes.com

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