Random bit of news: If you’re reading this from anywhere but my website, my website got a much-needed facelift which you can see here. Yay! It’s been difficult to narrow down what I want my focus to be as I continue writing, and I suppose I’ve landed on three things:
- Sex, and
- Mental Health.
Hopefully the site will be easier to navigate and provide resources for those who are looking for information on these three topics.
Anyway, we’re in our fourth week of the series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About and this week, we’ll cover a popular app – kik (To read previous weeks, click here).
Today’s app: kik
kik, like our previous reviews, is rated 12+ for the same reasons as the others (noticing a theme here?) for a variety of “Infrequent/Mild,” sex and suggestive themes.
kik’s Purpose (according to their website)
kik is a messaging app that “lets you connect with friends, groups and the world around you through chat. And now, you can chat with bots too.”
Terms of Service: kik has some rules, regulations and tips (even a section for parents, law enforcement and educators), but you’ll have to go on their website and hunt for it. The TOS says one must be 13 to use it, but it’s rated for ages 12+ in various app stores (it used to be rated ages 9+ until recently).
Privacy: General privacy settings apply here–you can block and report others and the app doesn’t share any personal information (date of birth) publicly.
kik is unique in the sense that in order to find and add a user, the other person has to know the user’s specific moniker. For instance, if you wanted to find me on kik, you can’t just search for “Anne Marie Miller” – you’d have to know my specific username.
While that’s a plus for privacy, kik recently released a “new chats” feature that is only a few clicks away, and this is where the crazy starts to happen.
Caution: New Chats
According to kik’s website, under the parental guide, it says about these “new chats”
The ‘New Chats’ feature on iOS and Android devices puts messages from people your teen hasn’t talked to before in a separate section, and turns off notifications for those messages. If your teen doesn’t want to see inbound messages from people they don’t know, they don’t have to. In one-on-one chats from new people, the profile pictures are blurred, and so are pictures or content messages they may have sent. Your teen can block and report someone new right from the messages that have been sent to them. You may want to review messages from new people with your teen, so you can decide together which new users they want to talk with.
So, while your kid is initially protected from random people starting chats with them, it doesn’t take more than a few clicks to start engaging with strangers. And while the photos are blurred until a user accepts a new chat, the first several lines of text are displayed.
Here’s my real life example: I registered as a new user under my real name, age, and sex (Anne Miller, 36, female). I put a photo of Tim and me up for my profile picture. But when I entered into the “new chat” section, it asked me again for my name, age, gender and picture. I played along to see how easy it was to not be me and converted to a 14 year old girl named Taylor and used a random picture of a high school girl I found on Google Images by searching for “high school senior picture.” I didn’t choose anything provocative.
I said I was “looking for new friends” and within less than three minutes of entering a new chat, I had NINETEEN messages (that I didn’t get as a 36 year old female, for what it’s worth).
Yes, all the photos are blurred, but I could see the content of the message. And, because I was
curious (I mean researching), I opened the top chat to see what happened. For what it’s worth, I didn’t open any other chats.
I censored this message with a red box (he asked to see my breasts, not my toes…)
I didn’t respond, and I was blown away. I showed Tim what happened, deleted the app, deactivated my account.
The Good: kik is an alternative to messaging where you don’t have to share your phone number (or even have one) to chat with people. I can see this being useful for traveling overseas when there’s a wifi connection and you don’t want to make your phone go international (then again, there are many other apps that accomplish this, including iOS’s built in iMessage, which is what I use and can text any phone that receives SMS over wifi). I also like that a person has to have a user’s unique user name to add them specifically (and that user has to accept the add).
The Bad: kik does not have a special corner on alternative messaging apps. There’s nothing unique about it, and far too much junk that is only a few clicks away from any user. Simply scrolling through some public profiles and messages in chat rooms, you can see what I mean: sexual poses, people who clearly aren’t teens pretending to be teens, if they are actually using their real photos (which remember, even I didn’t do when I pretended to be a 14 year old girl). In my few minutes using the app, not only did we find highly sexualized content, but extreme bullying (telling someone they need to kill themselves).
What you need to know:
We’ve talked about how most parents restrict app download for teens to the 12+ and under rating. This gives us a false sense of security thinking the apps we allow our kids to download are actually suitable for their age group. kik is just another example of how wrong this thinking is.
Last week, a woman who is a Director of Digital Learning at a private school emailed me about kik, which was the impetus behind me choosing it for this week’s app.
“…I had a girl walk in my office crying telling me that one of our male students was sexually harassing her using the third-party texting app KiK. At the time, I wasn’t very familiar with KIK. Long story short, we contacted the company that developed KIK and asked for them to give us the email address that was associated with this account. They refused. Our local police department requested the same information from the company, and they still refused.
About the same time I was dealing with the KIK app at school, my husband was driving our daughter who was 12 at the time, and a couple of her friends to a party. As he was driving, he heard one of the girls say that she was using the KIK app and on KIK she was pretending to be 16. My husband was horrified.
My husband emailed the dads of all the girls and told them what he had overheard, and explained to them the challenges I was having at school with KIK. The next day, all the mothers involved called me to get more information. At the end of each conversation, each mom made the same comment. They said, ‘This is overwhelming. I don’t even know where to start getting control over all of this social media stuff.'”
The basic premise of all these posts is to not write off every app or social media as inherently evil or terrible or useless. As I’ve always said, maybe it’s okay for your kids to have some of these apps and that’s up to you and your kids to decide.
Instead of locking their phones away or deleting every app but the calculator, use this opportunity to talk to your kids about how they engage with kik. Ask some questions.
- Have you heard about kik? Have you ever used it? If you have, what have you seen?
- Are there any kids in your school who you know have lied about their age or who they talk to on kik?
- What would you do if someone you thought was interesting (but didn’t know) sent you a message?
- What are the benefits of using kik? What are the risks?
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But it’s not just about apps! Get the first 28 pages of the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex FREE here and learn more about the book.
In Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About their Kids and Sex, readers will discover:
• An easy-to-understand introduction to what the Bible says about the purpose of sex (hint: it’s awesome)
• Anne Marie’s personal story of being a victim of sexual abuse in her teens, her compulsive pornography use, and how she found freedom from her shame and pain through her faith and her community.
• What, when, and how to talk to kids at any age about sexuality, researched and reviewed by professionals in medicine, child development and psychology.
• How the media plays a role in how we develop our sexual worldview (and how to talk about it).
• That pornography is being accessed and shared by children in elementary schools, how it affects our brains, and viewing pornography creates a need in the supply-and-demand chain linked to sex trafficking.
• How to watch for symptoms that your child may be sexually abused and how to discuss this tender topic with children of all ages.
• There is hope! For adults, for children, and for generations to come. It’s time to redeem the conversation!