Messaging apps have taken over from SMS/MMS messaging. These apps offer a richer and more exciting experience than regular SMS messaging, thanks to built-in features such as GIFs, stickers, and games. So, how do you know which ones are safe for your child? In a world of disappearing chats, screenshots, privacy controls, and end-to-end encryption, it can be hard to decipher which app is the best fit for your family. Here is a guide outlining what to look for and what we do and don’t recommend for pre-teens.
Written by Cyber Expert:
There's so much to consider when looking for a messaging app that is right for your child, as each app has its own individual features that differentiate it from the rest. These differences can include how long the chats are visible, who can contact the user, the kind of content shared on the app, and much more. Here we look at some of the more positive platform choices versus the riskier options at the other end of the scale, taking into account the most important safety considerations for kids.
Kids love to communicate using online messaging apps for several reasons. Firstly, messaging apps allow them to connect in group chats across both iOS and Android operating systems, so no one is excluded. Additionally, online messaging apps allow chats to sync across devices, so they function on a phone, tablet, or computer. Given that messaging is such a large part of the way kids socialize today, it's essential to pick the right app for them.
With the right safety parameters in place, Messenger Kids is one of the safest messaging apps for pre-teens. Facebook developed Messenger Kids as a safe space for children aged 6+ to interact with others online before they are old enough to have a Facebook account. In the app, parents must set up a profile for their child. The app allows users to video call, message, and use filtered age-appropriate GIFs via the parent dashboard. Parents can approve the contacts their children can interact with, and although they can't see the content of their child's messages, they receive a notification when a conversation is reported as inappropriate. The high level of parental controls available in this app make it a great place for kids to start using online messaging.
JusTalk Kids is the child-friendly version of the JusTalk app, and it provides a platform for kids to video chat and message for free. The great thing about JusTalk Kids is that there's no phone number or email account required to set up a user profile, and all of the information that goes into the profile is encrypted, keeping personal details safe. JusTalk Kids was designed to stop kids from receiving calls or messages from strangers. If someone tries to contact a user through the app without first being accepted as a friend, their messages and calls will be blocked automatically. The parental controls on JusTalk Kids allow parents to control what their child does on the app through the 'parents only code.'
Girl2Girl Wall is an app created for tween girls aged eight to sixteen to chat about relevant topics. Users under thirteen years of age need parent approval before creating an account, and identifiable personal information is not shared. This messaging app is recommended over others because the content of the chats is constantly monitored for inappropriate language, bullying, and offensive behavior. Human moderators screen all content created on the app before it is posted so parents can be comfortable with what their child is viewing on this app. Girl2Girl Wall is free to download and use, and although it is considered a safe app for children to use for messaging each other online, parents should be aware of the in-app purchases on offer. Users also have the chance to win gift cards in exchange for completing surveys.
Kik Messenger allows users to text for free without any message limits. This app is not recommended for children as users can add others to their account without permission by clicking on their username. Kik Messenger is a very dangerous app for children as they are not in control of who contacts them, putting them at risk of online predators and cyberbullying. Pornography is also shared regularly on Kik Messenger, sometimes as the first message. In this instance, a child would not know to block the user until they have seen the inappropriate content.
Discord is essentially a giant chat board that is very popular amongst gamers. Users join servers to chat and leave voice messages for others regarding a variety of topics, many of which are not appropriate for kids. Discord is not recommended for children as the content is user-generated and unmoderated. As a result, it is often inappropriate for children.
IMVU is the top-rated avatar-based social experience where users create custom avatars and use them to interact in chat rooms with others. There is a high amount of sexual content and chat on IMVU, and users are often asked to divulge private information and share photos and webcam links. The moderation of chat on IMVU is very poor, and kids will likely come across cyberbullying, explicit content, and pornographic images using the avatars.
With so many online messaging apps available to download for free, any attempt to review them all at once would be futile. It is also worthwhile noting that private messaging is available through social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. In the context of pre-teens and online messaging apps, it is best to evaluate what you do and don't want from the app for your child. Some things to consider around online messaging are:
Picking a messaging app that is right for your child will allow them to develop their online communication skills and independence in a safe setting. Using an app with parental controls and building trust and respect with your child around online safety will help to create the foundation of a healthy online presence for your child.
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