The social apps teenagers are using — and keeping him or her safe online

Playful illustration of two phones interacting via social media, as represented by icons

Keeping up with the social messaging apps used by today’s teenagers can feel overwhelming. So where’s a parent to start?

Gone are the days when teenagers communicated with their friends by hogging the landline, slipping a cheeky note into a schoolmate’s locker or chatting on MSN Messenger using the family computer.

Today, young people use a slew of apps and online platforms to share photos and videos, live stream themselves to groups or individuals, voice-chat with strangers as they play online games, or even seek anonymous (and often brutally honest) feedback on their appearance.

While these online platforms can have great social benefits for young people, the potential threats they pose to a teenager’s safety and wellbeing are enough to strike fear into any parent’s heart.

Back in the ’90s it was easy to tell when your child was communicating with someone else: you could see and hear them on the phone. But now things are much more complicated.

So we asked the experts which apps and platforms parents should be aware of — and how to navigate those tricky concerns you probably have about online wellbeing and safety.

Which platforms is your teen using to communicate online?

At the very least, your young person is probably on Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube.

Those are the most popular online platforms for teenagers, with a whopping 85 per cent of teens using YouTube, 72 per cent using Instagram, and 69 per cent on Snapchat, one US study found.

Facebook is nowhere near as popular as it once was with young people, but about half (51 per cent) of all teenagers still use it. Significantly more using the company’s Messenger app.

Young people with smartphones have plenty of options when it comes to communication though, so your kid might be using any number of platforms to socialise.

Broadly, the apps worth knowing about can be broken down into these categories:

Messaging apps (WhatsApp, Kik, WeChat, Viber, GroupMe, Jott, Tango)

  • Texting via SMS has fallen out of fashion. These apps allow you to send text messages but they also include features such as group messaging, free calls, extra emojis, video chat, photo-sharing, and messages that delete after a set time.
  • The risk factor: There are plenty of opportunities to connect with strangers on some of these apps. And a few of them allow sign-up without a phone number (meaning users can join anonymously, so it’s hard to tell if other users are who they say they are).

    Photo-sharing platforms (Snapchat, Instagram)