WhatsApp is all over the tech news sites today with the announcement of GIF support in their app. This is pretty cool news for users of WhatsApp but as parents keeping an eye on our children’s online activity this news makes it more and more interesting to our kids. So, what is WhatsApp and what should parents know?
WhatsApp is a wifi based messaging app that allows users to send messages (now including GIFs) to those who they are connected to on the app. You connect to people on WhatsApp first off by using your existing contacts. If your friends are already on WhatsApp you’ll be able to connect with them in the app, if not you can send them an invite. Only being able to chat with folks in your phone’s contacts list is a pretty good thing because this means that others can only contact you if you’re on their phone’s contacts list.
Here’s the catch, though. Group Chats… Yes, you can be added by friends to group chats. These chats allow you to be able to talk to people you may not know since they were added by someone else. If you can do this, you can connect with strangers who may not be who they say they are. Messaging apps, like WhatsApp can be worrying also because they allow for video and images to be sent. This can be a method of sexting or bullying and so it should be monitored.
Here are a few tips for parents whose kids are using WhatsApp:
- Conversation with your children is always key. Talk to them about privacy and security online and make sure they understand not to overshare, even on apps that they think are “safe.”
- Set up the privacy settings in your kids phones to not allow messenger apps to share locations and personal details.
- Insist your children don’t delete message threads and let them know you’ll be taking a look at what they send and receive on a regular basis.
- Set a bedtime for apps like WhatsApp. Don’t let children sit up late into the night chatting with people on messenger apps. There aren’t many healthy conversations that go on that late at night. (Check out CIRCLE for the ability to auto set bedtimes.)
- Finally, if your kids are younger, find a more kid focused messenger app. One where they can’t be in public or group chats and can only be accessed by people you (the parent) have already approved. (i.e. DisneyMix)
Kids are contacted and “groomed” by predators on apps like WhatsApp every single day. If you step in and help your child be smarter on these messenger apps, you can protect them from many potential dangers. Remember to talk to your kids and encourage them to come to you if anyone on one of these apps tries to have conversations with them that they’re not comfortable with or if they are bullied or see bullying. Nothing can keep them safer than the knowledge that you are there for them.