Following or “being friends” with their children on their social media accounts no longer permits parents to have adequate supervision or insight into what their kids are doing online. Secret or hidden apps, enhanced password protection, and even apps that facilitate drug purchases have provided tweens and teens with seemingly unfettered access to content and behaviors that their parents would most likely never condone.
To find out which apps parents need to be aware of, and how to find them, we reached out for insight from Titania Jordan, Chief Parenting Officer of Bark, an application that monitors 25 social media platforms, texting, and email for signs of cyberbullying, sexting, thoughts of suicide and depression, online predators, and potential drug use.
Central Penn Parent: What are some of the secret apps that kids are using? And how do they work?
Titania Jordan: The number of ways in which teens and tweens can communicate secretly on devices is truly overwhelming. Currently, we see this interaction take place via social media and vault apps. Vault apps are apps that look innocuous, like a calculator, but are actually used to hide pictures and messages that teens do not want their parents to see. Usually, a password must be entered to get into a hidden area of the app. Vault apps require authentication to open, and if the wrong password is used, some of the vault apps will take a picture of the person trying to get in. The most popular secret apps right now are Calculator%, Calculator+, CoverMe, Best Secret Folder, Audio Manager/Hide-it-Pro, Vaulty, Secret Photo Album Vault, and other various hidden folders. Often, these apps are available for download for a short period of time and then taken off the market in order to make them even harder to discover.
CPP: What can parents do to make sure their kids don’t have these apps?
Titania: If you haven’t already set up parental controls on your kids’ devices, you may want to see if they have any of these hidden apps already on their phones first. One way to check this is to go into their Google Play or Apple Store and do a few searches, like “hidden apps” or “vault apps” or even “private photos.” Once you run the search, you can see if any of those apps are installed by looking at the type of icon that lives beside the app name.
Since the very nature of these types of vault and hidden apps is to appear one day and be gone the next, it can be challenging to stay on top of the newest version. However, there are some controls you can put in place to help guide your teens as they navigate the digital world. For iOS users, under the Apple Family Sharing Plan, the organizer (parent) can turn on the Ask to Buy for the kids and teens in the family. That way, when a teen goes to purchase or download a free app, you can review and approve or decline it.
Android users can also set up parental controls in Google’s Play Store. Create a pin (use one your kids won’t guess) and set filters for apps, games, and movies by choosing the maturity level of content you would like to allow. You can also require a password for authentication for purchases in the Settings options for Google Play. In order to change the authentication settings your teen would need your Google password, so make sure it’s one they do not know and is not used for other family services, like Netflix. Additionally, you can set up a family payment method where you can turn on purchase approval settings for family members.
CPP: Have these apps made it easier for kids to source and acquire drugs and/or alcohol?
Titania: In some ways, these apps have absolutely made it easier for kids to source and acquire drugs and alcohol. When you no longer have to worry about your parents, teachers, or peers overhearing your conversations, a world of freedom opens up. Add to that code words like 420 (marijuana reference), dabbing (refers to concentrated doses of cannabis; also a dance craze), Juul (type of e-cigarette that is small and discreet, ‘pods’ are used for smoking), and lit/turnt/turnt up (something that’s active or popular, can also refer to being stoned or drunk), and even spot-checking your child’s device becomes problematic. New apps that show where you can find marijuana on a live map (like Uber, for weed) also make access to drugs even easier.
CPP: Just how common is illegal drug/alcohol communication among kids on their devices?
Titania: Over the past year, our data analysis of over 500 million messages across texting, email, and social media of children ages 8-17 in 2017 shows that 70 percent of teens and 54 percent of tweens engaged in conversations surrounding illegal drugs/alcohol.
CPP: Besides safety concerns, what are some of the legal implications of arranging a drug or alcohol buy with a smartphone?
Titania: The current digital nature of communications now leaves a traceable and permanent record that tweens and teens never had to worry about. This record can and will be used against them, and can have lasting damage on careers and reputations.