What Apps are Dangerous?

Are apps dangerous? They are, in the same way a knife is dangerous. It depends how they are used.

The most obviously dangerous are social media apps. Our children are living in a virtual fishbowl, with their every action and reaction having the potential to be broadcast to, literally, the whole world. An educator in my town described the risk of social media, like Instagram and Snapchat in terms even the most digitally naive can understand. Would you let your child put a poster-sized picture of themselves in the school hallway, with a sharpie and a caption reading, “Please tell me what you think about me.” Adolescence is a confusing, tumultuous time. Kids want to make their mark and fit in at the same time. Imagine doing it all over again … this time in front of a camera.

All the platforms which allow the sharing of pictures can be misused and are potentially harmful. A child who posts a picture on Facebook or Instagram is subject to ridicule, occasionally anonymously. Many mothers have told me they are shocked by what they see posted by kids as young as 13. The public judgement can increase insecurity and social phobia. If popular opinion does not “Like” what a teen posts, self-image can suffer … sometimes terribly. These forums can be used as a form of bullying with photos, videos and comments purposely designed to embarrass and degrade.

Snapchat seems harmless enough. You send a picture. It disappears within ten seconds. So, kids have been known to send nude shots to each other … a kind of virtual flashing. This might not be something you want your kids engaged in, but thank goodness it disappears, right? Wrong. Remember you can take a screenshot of your phone. Suddenly, that quick little tease lives on in perpetuity. Uh oh.

What about younger kids? There are apps that are fun, educational and silly. It’s like TV on your phone. You can use them to entertain a little one in a restaurant or in the car. But, how much is too much? Watch for signs your child is becoming addicted to the stimulation. Put limits on any time young children spend in front of the screen. (She writes while her three year olds are glued to Go, Diego, Go.) Child development experts warn too much screen time stunts brain development, causes social problems and results in too much passive learning.

Like everything in life, moderation is key. Before you let them hit the download button, make sure you understand what they are inviting into their world. Kids will always have a tendency to misuse what you put in front of them. Know the features of the apps they have access to, and then try to think like a hormone raging, pubescent kid.

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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Doctor, mom of five and founder of Tips From Town.

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