Recently Mashable reported about updates to SnapChat, a social media app that became popular among youth because you could efficiently share photos that would disappear within a matter of seconds. As with most new social media apps, the novelty of manipulating and sharing images attracts users who create profiles and build a network of communities to grow the user base, and then the app begins to converge with functionality resembling older apps. So now SnapChat offers text messaging and screen shot functionality, making it more like Tumblr or Instagram.
Tracking apps and how kids are using them is the number one challenge for parenting today because youth and app trends are incredibly dynamic and easy to access. A telecommunications account is not required to access texting or other social media apps.
Deputy Curt Honeycutt with the Placer County Sheriff Department works with youth in schools and is intimately familiar with how social media apps can attract youth attention, and the risks they pose. Below are a list of the top five apps he encourages parents to watch.
Kik messenger. This alternative texting service let your teens chat and swap pictures while bypassing your wireless provider's SMS service. Other popular alternatext apps include WhatsApp, TextNow, and Viber.
Chat Roulette. This site has been around for a few years and lets anyone engage in video chat via webcam with random strangers. Users under 18 are prohibited, as is nudity, but nobody's checking IDs at the door or making sure everyone is wearing pants (trust me, they aren't). Similar apps: Omegle, ChatRandom, or DirtyRoulette (and they have fewer restrictions).
Tinder. Hookup apps like Tinder let you scroll through images of other members and flag the ones you like. If they also like you, you're both notified, and then you can contact each other and do what comes naturally. Similar apps: Blendr, Grindr, Down, Skout, Swoon, and Pure.
SnapChat. Every day, some 400 million photos are shared via Snapchat; those photos then disappear, as Snapchat has them automatically self-destruct in ten seconds or less. In theory, it's a clever compromise between teenagers' voyeuristic narcissism and parents' desire to not have naked photos of their loved ones flying around the Intertubes. Similar apps:.Wire, Wickr, and Poke.
Vine. This app serves up endlessly looping six-second videos of cute pets and teens mugging for their smartphone cameras. But it also demonstrates just how much porn one can pack into six seconds. Anyone can search for teens, follow them, log their locations, leave comments, and try to connect with them via other services. Instagram, which officially bans nudity and sex-related hashtags, isn't much better.
For more about teaching kids to be cyber-safe users of texting and social media, go to: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media.