It Goes Down in the DMs: 4 Messaging Apps to Monitor

Teens spend an average of nine hours a day online, most of which is spent “scrolling”-a term used to describe mindless flicking through various social media news feeds and being inundated with information that is difficult to digest at once. Teens are not the only generation that has become addicted to new technology, but many of the platforms they use were created for more mature adults.

While many social media apps require a minimum age to join, they do not ask for evidence to confirm your identity. Anyone can create a fake profile or pretend to be someone they’re not online. When teens can hide behind a screen, they can either present versions of their ideal selves or say things that they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying face to face. The use of social media apps is a double-edged sword in relationships: it can bring distant people closer together or be used to tear people apart, often anonymously.

Sliding into the DMs

Trends in social media have fluctuated over time, where teens are becoming increasingly vulnerable online. Most social media apps are free to download and easy to set up an account. Teenagers are less likely than adults to look up reviews or read the terms and conditions before downloading a new app and usually rely on recommendations from their peers. This insatiability for new technology is related to FOMO, or the fear of missing out.

Social media is usually used as a photo-sharing platform, however messaging features can be dangerous as they can lead to cyberbullying, sexting, and inappropriate content. Many teens prefer online messaging as they believe it is safer than giving out personal information like their phone number. Sending messages online also restricts parental monitoring, works around one’s data plan, and does not require the use of a mobile phone.

While teenagers have been drilled with sayings like “stranger danger” in their childhood, the social media mentality is more open to meeting new people and building relationships with people that can be harder to have face-to-face. It has provided many social and dating opportunities for introverts and rejected teens, however the dangers of cyberbullying and getting taken advantage of are just as real online as in real life, even on popular apps with privacy settings.

  1. Instagram has been latched onto as a way to market your personal brand. The problem with Instagram as a marketing tool is the rise of “Finstas,” a second private account many teens have created to show their true selves to a select few friends, as compared to their “Rinstas,” which may have thousands of followers and censored photos. Content posted on Finstas is often more raw and dramatic, with personal details about one’s mental health, references to partying, and more revealing selfies. Although fake accounts may be where teens feel comfortable to be more real with their friends, the idea that they are uncensored can be problematic as the information they post is permanent and information can be used against them if someone is concerned about their mental health or the risky behavior they post about. Remind your teens that private information does not stay private once it’s been posted online.
  2. Snapchat is a popular app that allows you to send a message or a picture for a certain period of time that claims to disappear when the time is up, however it is easy to take screenshots. Some apps allow users to retrieve lost Snapchat pictures without the other user knowing and many are uploaded to other platforms. This disappearing acts leads teens to underestimate the power of what they can say and ignores that harmful messages can be imprinted forever in the minds of targets and in the software. Snapchat is also associated with sexting, as teens think the pictures they send or feel pressured into sending are private and temporary.  
  3. Kik is a messaging app where teens create usernames instead of using their real phone number to communicate with others. It is an encrypted app that teens give out to people they meet online as a way to talk more privately or intimately than through a photo-sharing platform like Instagram or an online forum like Reddit. As it does not require your real name, it is easy to create a fake account, which makes it easier for sexual predators and bullies to take advantage of the privacy settings of the app and use it to send inappropriate and hurtful messages without having to take responsibility for the impact.
  4. GroupMe is a messaging app that uses your real phone number to send group messages for free to users with any kind of smartphone. Groups do not have a limited amount of numbers and you do not have to know everyone in the group to be added. While group chats are useful for group projects or planning activities, many high schools have mass group chats for the entire grade, or most of it, where gossip spreads like wildfire. Some students may be singled out of the group chat and targeted behind their back. Cyberbullying in a group context increases the number of bystanders, who are less likely to stand up for the person being targeted in such a large crowd. Using encrypted platforms like GroupMe makes it difficult for parents to find out what is going on.

While it is becoming harder to delete all traces of your social media presence, it is important to help your teen understand the potential issues that can be created by popular social media apps and the effect it can have on their self-esteem, relationships, and safety. While you should not have to monitor everything they do online, encourage your teen to add you on social media networks as a reminder not to post anything they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to people about in person. Encourage them to reach out if they feel they’ve been threatened online, not to minimize it and to step in for others they witness being harassed online.

Elevations RTC is a co-ed residential treatment center for teens ages 13-17 who are struggling with mental health issues that have been affected by their technology use and victimization online. Our students struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, self esteem, and bullying. We follow a intensive interdisciplinary approach that offers college preparatory academics, therapeutic recreation activities, and individual, family and group psychotherapy. Elevations gives students the skills and confidence they need to transition to the real world and lead healthy, happy lives. We can help your family today!

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