Perhaps one of the most widespread innovations in the modern usage of the internet is the creation of social media. These sites and apps allow users to connect in ways that would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Though this ability to share ideas, images, videos, and other personal information has brought many people together, it has also opened up various avenues for potential harm to users who are not on careful. This danger can be especially pronounced for teenagers, who typically lack the precautionary nature that can be helpful in combatting online risks. In response to these risks, many parents have turned to the monitoring service TeenSafe to help protect their children. To get a better idea of the potential for nefarious activity online, and the ways in which such a service can help equip parents to safeguard their teens, we’ve taken an in-depth look at both social media and the company’s offerings.
How it works
Before diving into the specifics of each popular social media service, let’s first understand the ways in which TeenSafe empowers parents to protect their kids. The service offers a variety of monitoring tools that afford the ability to keep an eye on the ways in which teens use their smartphones. One important piece of this toolbox is a function that allows parents to monitor SMS messages. This functionality is able to display both incoming and outgoing text messages, and it can even allow parents to read deleted text messages as well. This feature is for text only and will not display photos or videos that have been sent or received.
Another feature of the service is its ability to allow parents to monitor the call logs of their teens. By viewing calls that have been received or placed, parents are able to better understand who their child is communicating with on a daily basis. In addition, the service allows for the viewing of web page history, including bookmarked sites, and the tracking of phone location, both past, and present. Taken as a whole, this suite of tools allows parents to gain a more complete picture of the ways in which teens are using their phones to connect to others via direct communication or the internet.
One important thing to understand before viewing the specifics of the various social media services that can be found online is that, at their base, the chief concern they present is they rely on the use of good judgment to avoid a dangerous situation. This is problematic for teens as they are especially vulnerable to risks that rely on a level of maturity and development in order to be avoided. This is because of the way in which the human brain develops and the timeframe under which it reaches full maturity.
To briefly touch on the topic, the portion of the brain that is mainly responsible for the exercise of good judgment is known as the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is not only responsible for decision making, but also for moderating social behavior and planning behavior that requires complex thought. In short, the prefrontal cortex is crucial for making the kinds of decisions that are required when faced with situations that can be both complicated and dangerous. However, this portion of the brain is among the last to fully develop in humans. In fact, research shows that the brain does not reach full maturity in terms of development until we are twenty-five years old. The unfortunate outcome of this fact is that teenagers, while often possessing full access to the internet and all of its potential for harm, are left without a fully-formed ability to make rational decisions.
Various social media services
Since each social media site has different functionalities that present a unique set of risks, in the following sections we’ll dive into detail about what sets each one apart. By looking at the specifics of the types of social media that teens are currently using, parents can get a better sense of what to look out for when monitoring their kids through a service such as TeenSafe. This will also help parents gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which the modern teen uses the internet to interact with each other.
This is the most popular social media app used by teens currently, so it can be helpful for parents to pay special attention to this one. At its heart, Snapchat is really a messaging app. The core premise of the app is that anything you send to contacts, whether it’s a photo, video, or message, is only available for a short period of time. After that, whatever was sent becomes inaccessible. The basic idea behind the short-lived nature of these communications is that it will encourage a more natural type of interaction, without the fear that what was sent will live forever on the internet.
Snapchat’s Associated Dangers
Because communications sent through Snapchat are presumed to be short-lived, users are often more likely to send things they may not be willing to send via a more traditional message app. These items can include explicit photos, videos, or private text messages. The presumption here is that the recipient will receive the sensitive content and then it will disappear forever.
One of the problems with the above line of thought, however, is that it is not always true. There are a myriad of ways for recipients to save a message on Snapchat for later viewing. This can include the use of screenshots or a second phone to take a photo of the phone receiving the message. Since the presumption of non-permanence can provoke users to send material they would otherwise not send, this ability to make a Snapchat message permanent can present a very real long-term problem.
Due to its potential for lowering the inhibitions of senders, this app can present a particularly dangerous situation for teens who become connected to online predators. Not only can they be enticed to send explicit imagery via the app, the imagery can then be used to blackmail the sender for additional images once its permanent nature is revealed. In this way, teens may find themselves in a risky situation from which they feel there is no way out. The ability of a parent to monitor and intervene to avoid such a situation can be key in protecting a teen from online danger.
Though it has become somewhat less popular among teens of late, Facebook is still a powerhouse in the world of social media and as such it is imperative for parents to understand how it is being used by their kids. Unlike Snapchat, Facebook is more often used as a fully-fledged social media service where users create online profiles filled with personal information, photos, and other identifying items. Users can share thoughts via a variety of methods such as wall posts or comments, and the service also includes a messaging component to allow users to communicate directly and privately.
Facebook’s Associated Dangers
The profile component of Facebook presents a unique source of danger for those who are not careful as it is possible for users to share deeply personal or identifying information via this feature. Such information can include a user’s age, gender, school, phone number, address, friends, and more. In addition, even though many of Facebook’s settings default to being private, there are many ways for such information to be made public to strangers perusing profiles. Even if such information is kept private, once someone is added as a friend on the service they will typically have full access to the entirety of a user’s profile.
One of the prime dangers associated with the above sharing of information is that it has the potential to be used by predators to take an online relationship into the real world. For teens, who tend to be less careful about online privacy than adults, this can mean a transition from online messaging, to text messaging, to eventually meeting in person. Without the use of a monitoring app like TeenSafe, parents may have no idea that their teen is meeting in person with someone they first encountered online.
In recent years, Instagram has become the leading way for users to post and share photos on the internet. Unless an account is marked private, these photos can be accessed by people who are not officially connected to the sharer’s account, known as following. That means that a user’s personal photos can often be accessed by strangers, and users can access the photos of others very easily. In addition, the service has a direct messaging function that allows users to communicate directly with one another. Messaging functionality works whether or not users are following one another.
Instagram’s Associated Dangers
There are a host of dangers that are associated with online photo-sharing sites such as Instagram. One of the chief risks among them is the potential for cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, a practice that carries with it a host of mental health risks for those afflicted, can be seen rampantly in the comments section of photos posted to the site. Not only can this cause a high degree of unwanted negative attention and social stigmatization, it can also result in a severe drop in self-esteem for victims of bullying. This can be even more pronounced on Instagram where many users spend an inordinate amount of time and resources to produce highly curated images. In comparison to these images, a typical photo taken by a non-professional user can be singled out for ridicule (https://www.allprodad.com/5-dangers-of-social-media-for-teens/).
In addition to the potential for bullying, Instagram also presents teens with the ability to access images that are of an explicit nature. These images can portray sexual or violent situations that are often beyond a teenager’s ability to process and may severely affect their worldview. Studies have shown that children that are exposed to such imagery may be more likely to engage in violent nature of their own. Though Instagram does institute some moderation when allowing photos and videos to be posted to their site, much of the content that can be found on the service is still only suitable for adult viewing, yet can be viewed by anyone who seeks it out.
A service that has become well-known in recent time for its use among celebrities and politicians, Twitter has become a service where anyone’s voice can be heard. Users are confined to a fairly limited character count when posting to their account, though they can also post links, images, and videos along with their text. Users often communicate with one another through the comment section in a given post, known as a tweet. The service also supports direct messaging between users.
Titter’s Associated Dangers
Though this spread of viewpoint can often result in a productive exchange of ideas, it also has the ability to spread a host of dangerous opinions and thoughts. With very little moderation being enacted on tweets, users have mostly unfettered access to ideas that can be violent and sexual in nature. This again presents teens with information and imagery that can be overly explicit for their level of development. This type of explicit content can actively impede the development of a teen’s brain, skewing their baseline for what they consider to be normal. As this baseline shifts, research suggests that a correlating shift in behavior can often be observed.
In addition to exposure to explicit content, Twitter is another platform that can expose teenagers to cyberbullying. This type of behavior is rampant on the service and can be observed in both the comment section of tweets and through direct messaging. Without the ability to monitor a teenager’s communication through a service such as TeenSafe, parents may be unaware of the extent to which such communications are being received (TrackingApps). This can be compounded by a teen’s natural resistance to discussing such a situation, with upwards of ninety percent of teens keeping these types of interactions secret from their parents.
The final social media site we’ll cover is Tumblr. This is a prominent service amongst teens and young people, with the latest data showing it is more popular than Facebook amongst those between the ages of thirteen and twenty-five. Tumblr is a blogging platform that is used to share a wide variety of content including text, GIFs, images, videos, music, and more. Posts can be liked, reblogged and commented on.
Tumblr’s Associated Dangers
One of the biggest dangers presented by Tumble is its relatively low level of privacy settings. Most posts are public by default and making such posts private can be a somewhat non-obvious process. Because of this, private information can be shared on the service even if a teen is trying to avoid it. This can create a potential avenue for online predators to view content and reach out to young users via the platform.
Tumblr can also be used to access a host of inappropriate material that is pornographic in nature. Although the service has recently instituted some protocols to try a curb such material on its platform, there is still an extensive amount of this type of content existing on the site. This level of prevalence can serve to make teens think that posting or viewing such material is normal and may encourage such activities amongst those who may otherwise be disinclined to do so. Explicit material can be so widespread on the platform that searches containing seemingly innocuous wording can still result in material that is inappropriate for viewing by young users.
Though being familiar with social media sites and how they are used can be an important step for parents looking to safeguard their teenagers online, it is merely a piece of the puzzle. Installing a monitoring service such as TeenSafe can be an additional tool to be used by parents who are concerned about their child’s online activity. However, even beyond this, the makers of the service recommend maintaining open and honest lines of communication between parents and teens concerning the risks of online activity. By using a monitoring service as a starting point to jumpstart communication, parents can work to explain why social media can be dangerous and what practices should be used to stay safe. The use of a “contract” between parents and teens regarding the use of technology can help to encourage buy-in by a teen. It also has the benefit of clearly spelling out the boundaries and limitations that accompany responsible phone usage.
As social media services continue to develop their capabilities, the potential for abuse becomes more pronounced. Though this potential can be daunting for parents who are concerned about their teenager’s exposure to danger, it is by no means an inevitability. Keeping informed on the latest trends in social media by reviewing information such as what has been presented above will help parents arm themselves in their commitment to safeguarding their children. A monitoring service such as TeenSafe can also provide a host of valuable tools towards this end. Consider the use of the service in conjunction with a focus on information to help keep teens safe in the modern online landscape.
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