Spying on, monitoring, checking in on, or as my daughter likes to call it ‘stalking’ my kids on their social media accounts has become one of my priorities. I didn’t place that much importance on it until my niece and my daughter became the victims of online bullies.
With so many apps out there that kids can easily download and use, it’s hard to keep up with them. But you have to get your head out of the sand and understand how these apps work and use them yourself. If your child has an iPhone or iPod then you need one too, plain and simple. It’s the only way to keep on top of what they are up too.
My daughter is aged 11 (going on 16!) and is in year 6. My son is nearly 14 and is year 8. My son isn’t huge on social media other than checking out soccer updates on Facebook. My daughter on the other hand is obsessed and this happened so quickly – in a matter of weeks! This made me start to wonder about the target markets of some of these applications.
When you read through the terms and conditions of many applications they state that you need to be over 13 to use them. In reality, kids much younger than that are using them. And if you think they aren’t, think again!
The main applications my daughter uses are Instagram, Ask.fm and Kik. Instagram is a Facebook type of app that they post photos on too. Whatever they post and whoever comments, the username is shown. Ask.fm is a question based application that allows users to send other users any question they like either anonymously (or as they refer to as ‘anon’) or with their username shown. Kik is an application that allows them to send text-like messages to other users that they invite into either personal conversations between them or as a group. Then, of course, there is Facebook, which my daughter isn’t allowed to have until next year when she starts high school.
At first my daughter had these apps on her iPad and I would just pinch it every now and then and sneak a quick read through her stuff. At this stage all she had was Instagram and Kik. Everything was quite innocent.
A few months ago I happened to pick up the iPad and realised that she was logged into an Ask.fm account. I had heard of it, but didn’t know much about it. I started to read through some of the messages and was absolutely shocked. I didn’t understand how the app worked so couldn’t work out whether the messages were to or from my daughter or not related to her at all. As ‘app savvy’ as I thought I was, I began to realise I actually wasn’t and that things had moved along much more quickly than I had ever anticipated. Knowing my way around Facebook was no longer enough.
So it was time to learn. I Googled the apps she used and got a quick ‘how to’ lesson on each of the things she was using. At first my reaction to the Ask.fm account was to close it down, but I relented when she showed me the questions she was being asked were quite innocent. What’s your favourite colour, what’s your favourite TV show... No harm in that right?
As with all the app accounts and email accounts my kids have, my number one rule is that Mum knows all the passwords. They aren’t allowed to have anything if I don’t know the password to get into it.
It wasn’t long after this that I happened to be on the computer one night doing some work and thought I would quickly jump onto her Ask.fm account to have a little look. I nearly choked on my Mars Bar when the first thing I see pop up on the screen was not a question, but a statement.
“Umm remember what Miss said in class you shouldn’t have a boyfriend you’re way too young slut”.
Yep, there it was in black and white, my daughter’s first cyber bully encounter and she was being called a slut at 11. Seems having a little crush on a boy that she calls her boyfriend (which I was aware of by the way) makes her a slut. This was followed by a few other choice statements including ‘close your legs slut’. Unfortunately, she had responded to the statements but not really knowing what a slut was, her responses only showed her naivety. I quickly deleted them after taking a screen shot of it all and called her downstairs.
As I was talking to her, the questions continued to come through from this little troll. But, unfortunately for this person, they had given away the fact that they were in her class. We sat and discussed who was in her class, who also used these applications and who may currently be online. We narrowed it down to two girls, one of whom we knew was not at home and had no internet access. So I had my daughter contact the other girl through Kik to see if she was online, which she was (remembering all this time, the questions where still coming through). I had my daughter tell the girl a little white lie that we were tracing where the questions were coming from but that if the person came forward and apologised, we wouldn’t take it to the school principal or the police. While the girl never really admitted that she did it, the questions suddenly stopped. Proof enough for me.
My immediate reaction was to say close the account down. My husband took a different approach. As bad as Ask.fm can be, it is one of the only applications that allows you to be logged into the one account on separate devices simultaneously, meaning I can have it on my phone at that same time as my daughter’s phone and monitor it. As he pointed out, ban her from using this and she will just find some other application that may not have this ability. This was a big enough lesson for me to take action and know more and watch more.
Here are some tips I’ve learnt about the apps my kids use:
- Facebook, probably one of the most harmless. Just ensure that their account is set on private so that the only people that can reach them through Facebook are friends that they have accepted. Can be logged into multiple devices at one time for monitoring;
- Instagram, again fairly harmless. Works a little like Facebook but instead of friends you have followers and follow other people. Unlike Facebook, if you follow someone they can’t see your information unless you allow them to follow you. Again, ensure their account is set to private. Can be logged into multiple devices at one time for monitoring;
- Ask.fm, high risk if not controlled. As anyone can send anyone any messages either known or unknown, there is a high risk that trolls will use this app to get to your kids. It can be logged into multiple devices at one time so use this ability. Monitor the questions that are coming through on your kid’s accounts and if you don’t like something that you read, delete it before your child sees it. If they do see it, point them in the direction of choosing not to answer it. These trolls soon stop sending things through if you delete or don’t answer their questions, as the fun of it for them is taken away. If they send the questions anonymously, you cannot block the user which is another one of the downsides of this application;
- Kik, great for the kids to message each other without texting, but really needs to be monitored. Unfortunately, this application does not allow it to be logged into multiple devices. As soon as you log in on another device, any messages are wiped and reset so I found it’s one of the hardest ones to monitor. We are currently working on a trust system whereby, my daughter uses the application to talk to her friends and then allows me to read through all the conversations at the end of the day. Sure there is the risk that she can delete things before I see them, but I will do a random spot check when she’s not expecting it through the day. You can usually tell if something has been deleted however, as the chain of conversation will appear broken;
- Snapchat, one of the newer ones and one I haven’t totally worked out yet so for now, I have banned access to it. This application allows kids to take a photo of themselves (a ‘selfie’) add a little message to it and send it off to another user. That user then receives the message, opens it, sees it, reads it but can only do so for around 6 seconds and then the photo is deleted. A list of the messages that are sent and received can still be seen on their account, but the photo and message sent with it, is no longer available to be viewed. My fear of this one is what type of ‘selfies’ can be sent. So my two main issues with this app is that it can’t be logged into another account and the message content is deleted and can’t be retrieved. After doing some research into the app, it appears that photos are never really deleted from a device but stored within the phones memory banks. There are apps that allow you to search through the iphone memory banks but your phone cannot have these apps installed unless it is jail broken. This is where I hit a brick wall in working this side out, so until I take that next step, app is now deleted.
So here’s my advice:
- Know what applications your kids are using and learn how to use them yourself. If you can’t learn enough from google, get your kids to show you how they work or ask a friend’s teenage kids.
- Know their logins and passwords for EVERYTHING.
- Any email address that they have set up, have copies redirected to your own email account.
- Investigate into the apps they are using as to whether you can have them loaded and logged in on multiple devices so that you can monitor what they are doing in real time.
- If they start getting hate (ie, being bullied), block that person if the app allows it and screen shot any of the messages for evidence. If you don’t know how to screen shot, on an iphone it is quite simple just press the square home button at the bottom of the screen at the same time as the power button and an instant photo of whatever appears on your screen will be taken and saved in your camera roll.
- Learn their language! We all know lol, wtf and btw, but do you know what ‘ily’, ‘brb’ and ‘cbf’ mean? No? Then learn it. You will have absolutely no chance of working out their conversations if you don’t know these abbreviations – they were developed by kids to prevent parents reading messages but they can be easily googled and deciphered. (By the way they mean ‘I love you’, ‘be right back’ and ‘can’t be f*#ked’).
- Set up ‘boundaries’ or ‘rules’ they have to adhere to with social media. Some of the rules I have are that she cannot have anyone following her on Instagram that she does not know, she is not allowed to have her iphone or ipad in her bed with her after her lights out curfew, she must hand her iphone to me every night for inspection so that I can check through her Kik messages, emails and photos. This is a compromise for the fact that she is only 11, has the privilege of having access to these things and in return must accept that she will be monitored, or stalked as she says lol! Another rule, until they turn 15, they have to be friends with me on Facebook!
- Most importantly though, remember that you were a kid once too. We grew up in an age where we jumped on a bike, rode down to the local park and did what we wanted, spoke to who we wanted and said what we wanted without ‘Big Mumma’ watching over us. We learnt how to be responsible and how to take care of ourselves with this freedom. These kids now don’t have this ability anymore because we are too afraid to let them out of our sights in fear of them getting hurt. So, whilst I monitor or stalk everything she does, I don’t necessarily question her on everything. I want to see whether she can handle responsibility and stand up for herself in certain situations. I also think to myself that, I would have been mortified if my mother had any idea of the boys that I liked as a school kid and what we would talk about with to friends. I guess what I am saying is be aware, but don’t interfere unless you really need to, otherwise they will shut you out of their social media world.
Do you monitor your kids' online activity?