(WIAT) — As secretive as kids can be, the nature of social media and the use of apps is exploitative. Many teens have an entire, separate life online from what their parents see at the dinner table. Sometimes, that can be dangerous.
“I think it’s probably a fear for every parent,” said Brandy, the mother of one of CBS 42’s ‘If My Parents Only Knew’ panelists. “I’m sure we all hid stuff, and I’m sure they do, but it’s scary to know that people can see it all online.”
CBS 42 spoke to several different panels of kids between the ages of 10-18 about their lives online. The most popular apps in our focus groups included Snapchat, Instagram, and Musical.ly; however, they also talked about Youtube and Ask.fm
The kids revealed that when it comes to Instagram, most of them have multiple accounts. One girl even confessed to having 6 different profiles. Many use what’s called a ‘spam’ account, where they’ll post embarrassing or personal things that they only want to their closest friends to see.
“It’s just pointless stuff,” explained Grace, 15. “Ugly selfies, a video where you were dancing really stupidly. Stuff you wouldn’t let anyone else see. You wouldn’t post it on your normal.”
Most of the kids in our focus groups said that they made sure their alternate accounts are private and harmless. However, they said they’ve seen their classmates using the alternate accounts to hide things from their parents–like provocative pictures and nudity or drug and alcohol use.
“One thing that is a problem are Snapchats,” said Grace. Snapchat is an app that allows users to send photos to a specific group of people for a time limit. After the time expires, the photos shouldn’t be accessible. “That’s where people post their smoking and anything like that–and I know so many kids that go to my school and just do all of these horrible things.”
Social media and technology have also created a new and unfortunate environment where bullying thrives. “They make fake accounts just to bully people,” said Luke, 11, “and that’s so that other people won’t know that they are the bully.”
What a person’s social media profile looks like can also result in bullying. Kids feel pressured to curate accounts that reflect a certain kind of desirable lifestyle. “I’d say it’s more about what people can see,” explained Ian, 12. “The more stuff you do that’s expensive. Say you went to New York or somewhere really nice like Hawaii. You’ll get a lot of attention.”
Attention is like a form of currency online, according to the teens. “You have to have a lot of likes and followers,” explained Gabby, 14. “It’s what you look like on social media or what kinds of things you post on social media. What kind of things you do– or where you go.”
Sadly, the kids agreed when asked–it usually more important to most of them to paint a picture of a great life on social media than to actually have one.
The majority of the kids had also experienced something that could be frightening to some parents: a stranger, trying to make contact with them.
“This guy was texting me a bunch of creepy stuff,” Grace explained of her Snapchat account, which was not private at the time. “He would say, oh I know where you live and a bunch of creepy, weird stuff.”
Most of the panel said that they kept their various accounts closed to only allow family and friends for that very reason, but that a lot of their peers left their online lives completely open. “One of them kept saying something about Snapchat–that it goes away?” said mom, Brandy. “I think that’s one thing that they forget. That it really doesn’t. I mean, there are ways to keep that, and when you put something on the internet, it’s forever.”
We asked the teens — what are some apps that parents should probably be aware of? Here’s what we came up with–and what the apps do.
Snapchat: this app allows users to send photos, videos, or text messages and determine the amount of time the selected audience is able to see them until they “vanish”. There are ways to screen grab images, although the user will be notified when a recipient does this. Snapchat got a lot of attention for being a “sexting” app, especially when it first came out, because of the time limit on images.
Instagram: you’ve probably heard of this app, and you might even have it. Most of the kids we interviewed say it’s one of their favorites right now. This app allows users to share images, videos, and image/video stories.
Omegle: when downloading the app, the company’s slogan reads, ‘chat for strangers, anonymous!’
Kik: users can chat one-on-one and in groups, while also sharing pictures and videos. It’s rated 12+ for infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes/infrequent/mild sexual content and nudity. Some experts worry that this app is often used by sexual predators to interact with minors.
Ask.fm: this app is used for anonymous Q&A for over 150 million users. Blake Fields, 17, told CBS 42 the app is often used to target an individual, resulting in cyberbullying, and since the questions are asked anonymously–the perpetrator is rarely caught, and the bullying can get pretty vicious.
Musical.ly: this app has coined itself as the world’s largest creative platform. A lot of the kids we interviewed are currently loving it. It’s a lip-syncing app that allows kids to film and star in their own videos–often, music videos. Like most social media apps, without privacy settings in place–this can open kids up to interactions with strangers.