We round up some of the most popular apps that tweens and teens are downloading in 2021 with some useful tips for how to protect your child online.
As a parent, it’s crucial to know whether an app is appropriate for your child or not – and how to use blocking, reporting and privacy settings. Here are some pointers that every parent should know before handing their child a smartphone:
What is it? Send photos, short videos or messages known as 'Snaps' to friends; these ‘Snaps’ usually appear temporarily before disappearing, though they can be captured via screenshots.
Age limit: 13-plus years
What are the risks? Because the snaps are quickly deleted, it’s nearly impossible for you to see what your child is doing with the app, and it makes it easy for bullies to send a bunch of malicious messages to anyone on their contact list and go undetected. Even though Snaps are designed to disappear, a bully can still take a screenshot and share it around the school. Also, there’s no way to validate age so anyone can download the app. All accounts are set to public, which means that strangers can contact your child, and Snap Map lets friends see each other's location on a map.
Tips for staying safe: Find out how remove and block friends and privacy settings here.
What is it? Create, share and view short videos, either music videos lasting up to 15 seconds or short looping videos of up to one minute.
Age limit: 12-plus years
What are the risks? There’s no way to validate age, so anyone can download the app. In January 2021, TikTok introduced new features to help tackle cyberbullying. It has made all registered accounts under the age of 16 private by default, which means they can no longer receive comments from strangers, have their videos used for “duets” or mark their posts as available to be downloaded. However, if your child’s account is set to public, then they can still be contacted by strangers. Also, videos and comments can include language and content that’s not appropriate for young children.
Tips for staying safe: Ensure your child signs up with the correct age so that their profile is set to private, set up Family Pairing to help manage your child’s account, and show your child how to block another user by going to their profile and clicking 'block'.
What is it? This is a virtual version of a massive get-together where up to eight friends meet in a ‘room’ to chat or play games; they can lock that room’s door or leave it open for new people to walk in and join them.
Age limit: 12-plus years
What should parents know? There’s a risk that your child will be talking to people they might not know well – or to complete strangers. As with all live apps, there’s nothing to stop users from engaging in bullying, using objectionable language, or sharing graphic content.
Tips for staying safe: Switch settings to Private mode and turn on the lock function (the padlock button at the bottom of the screen) to chat undisturbed with friends. Also, your child can Ghost, Report, Block or Unfriend other users by clicking on the smiley icon and selecting ‘My friends’.
What is it? Yet another free messaging app that can be used to send texts, selfies, and emojis to friends; it also has a built-in web browser and plenty of internal apps where your child can play games, make memes, watch videos, listen to music, and more.
Age limit: 17-plus years
What are the risks? Although the age rating is 17+, anyone can download it since there’s no age verification, and children can use the Meet New People feature, which lets them chat conversation with random users (strangers) without your knowledge.
Tips for staying safe: Don’t download it – this app is not recommended for anyone under the age of 17 years.
What is it? A murder-mystery game set on a spaceship that can be played with four to 10 other players; you can join a game with people you don’t know or create a private game with friends.
Age limit: 7-plus years
What are the risks? While this is largely a safe game, if your child decides to play in a public game online, they’ll likely be playing with people they don’t know.
Tips for staying safe: Switch on Censor Chat, which scans messages from other players for inappropriate language or comments that someone might find upsetting; the box will go green when you do this.
What is it? An app that lets you watch, create and comment on videos. There's live streaming of videos and you can create your own YouTube account and even your own channel; it's become highly popular with children watching their favourite gamers, for example, as well as finding how-to videos.
Age limit: 13-plus years
What are the risks? Watching and making YouTube videos are entertaining and can be a great way of learning skill. However, your child is at risk of watching something upsetting, violent or inappropriate on YouTube. They should also be warned about sharing private information such as name, location etc.
Tips for staying safe: Switch on Restricted Mode and disable the ‘autoplay’ feature to stop videos playing automatically after one has ended.
For more information, visit NSPCC’s Net Aware to search for apps and games to find out more about them and how safe they are.