Beginning of the school year is a delicate time for children and youth. If academic expectations are not enough, children seem to believe that they are expected to live up to peer-pressure as well. This is always accompanied by insecurities and complexes.
There are helplines, guides and mentors that exist in the physical world, but children seem to be more comfortable taking the virtual route. Research shows that an increasing number of children all over the world are resorting to apps to discuss their insecurities and problems. Some just download the apps to have whale of a time but fail to realize that there is always a downside.
Apps like Talk Life encourage children to discuss personal issues and struggles such as suicidal thoughts, self-harm, low-esteem and bullying publicly.
Once the app is downloaded, the user has to provide their full name, photograph, information regarding their sex and birth date. Additionally they have to provide brief bio about themselves. Then the users go on to confess – anything and everything ranging from self-harm to rape and illicit drug abuse. Some of them use the forum to give their goodbye messages as a result of suicide allegations.
What is most disconcerting about the app is even if a reporting feature is available there is no option to report a message for immediate action by a Talk Life moderator, emergency services, etc.
Most of the Talk Life user profiles are connected to KIK usernames. KIK Messenger – now officially recognized by police forces all over the world as a breeding ground for online predators. Predators often use a tactics known as “grooming”, which becomes easier if the predator knows that the victim is suffering from self-esteem issues. These issues are exploited by the predator to make the victim feel “accepted and loved” which are followed by requests to see photos, that dangerously turns into threat of acts such as sexting, exploitation, and sextortion.
These apps can be downloaded by anyone and there is no process to validate the age or identity. Even if it asks for an email address before posting, there is no follow up email to verify the account.
Without adequate safety and security protocols, these apps are potential score grounds for cyberbullies, online predators and mischief mongers.
Children and youth often overlook the consequences of their online choices. Most of them don’t realize that even with their confessions they are creating a digital footprint that cannot be erased. Things that might come back to haunt them at a later stage in their life as they apply for higher studies or look for a job.
What you as a parent can do about it?
First - Talk, communicate and please when we say “talk” we don’t mean “nag” or “harass” information out of your child. Communication is the best way to understand what you child is going through.
Second – Resort to technology for help. Restrict downloads, change passwords for downloads. Limit your credit card access. Install a security software that has parental control feature in it.