Both Google Play and Apple's App Store offer at least 2 million apps for download. Although many of those apps can be fun and/or useful for both adults and kids, some of them can pose hazards of various kinds for teens and younger children.
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In this article, we'll explore four apps—Whisper, Yik Yak, MeetMe, and Tinder—that can be dangerous because they're mostly about connecting with people nearby, raising the prospect of real-world encounters. The apps provide varying degrees of location sharing.
A socially mature teen might be able to handle apps like these responsibly, but what parent wants an 8-year-old to get together after school with a stranger? The apps can spur other problems, too, ranging from bullying to self-doubt.
Google Play doesn't provide ratings for age appropriateness, but the App Store prohibits downloads of all four of these apps (and lots of others) by people under the age of 17. To learn more about Apple's concerns about a prticular app, go to the app's download pages on Apple's searchable iTunes site.
Despite Apple's admonitions, though, there isn't much—aside from parental control software—to prevent a younger kid from downloading and using any app.
Here's the lowdown on each of these apps.
Especially popular among young teens, Whisper is an app for anonymously sharing thoughts and feelings that you don't want to divulge to anyone you already know. Some posts are light and even funny, but others deal with dark topics that might be inappropriate for younger children to read about, such as crimes committed, failed relationships, eating disorders, insecurity, and loneliness.
People also confess lies they've told to family members, friends, teachers, and coworkers. After typing in their secrets, users superimpose the text they've written onto photos.
Members can opt to be notified of postings by other users located within a certain radius. The app also includes a Meetup section which encourages users to exchange personal information.
Whisper has declared a zero tolerance policy on bullying. Members can block other users, and they can report bullying and other forms of harassment to Whisper's support team.
Yik Yak is widely used by college and high school students. The app allows users to share comments anonymously with up to 500 other Yik Yak users located within a 1.5-mile radius.
Yik Yak isn't specifically a meetup app, but it reveals people's locations by default. Unless you toggle off location sharing, it will use your phone's GPS to show other users exactly where you are. Your precise location gets updated each time you open the app.
Beyond that, comments made on Yik Yak tend to be gossipy and are sometimes derogatory of other people. Adults—including teachers checking up on what kids are saying—have been known to use Yik Yak, too.
This highly controversial app has been at the center of a number of well-publicized instances of bullying, some involving hate speech and threats of violence. Yik Yak does accept requests to "geofence" particular schools, thereby disabling the app throughout a school campus.
As its name implies, MeetMe is all about meeting new people. It boasts a base of more than a million daily active users.
While MeetMe isn't touted as a dating app, it includes a "Match" feature that allows users to "secretly admire" each other. Geolocation is not enabled by default, but MeetMe does ask permission to use a phone's location services so you can find matches who are geographically nearby.
In some respects, MeetMe may be safer than some other apps in its category. It requires users to register and to provide a full name (last and first), an email address, and adate of birth. Any kid under 13, based on the date of birth entered, is blocked from registering. That's not to say that a child won't enter a false date of birth, of course.
Profiles on the site are public by default, though users can choose to make their profiles private. People who want to keep their profiles public should be careful about how much personal information they supply.
Tinder is specifically a dating app. A recent poll reported that 55 percent of all adults in the U.S. who are married or in other "committed relationships" say that they met their partner online.
Tinder does get a lot of legitimate use, especially by college students and older 20-somethings. But like many other dating apps, Tinder is subject to being used by scammers, who pose as people they are not and ultimately ask for money or other favors. Tinder permits users to verify their own identities, but this feature is optional.
Preteens and young teens are likely to have more trouble than older folks in distinguishing between real people and fakes—and most parents wouldn't want them to be trying to date 19-year-olds, anyhow.
One issue specific to Tinder is that matches—and the real world meetups that can ensue from them—are based almost exclusively on physical attraction, as opposed to common interests or other information that typically appears in dating app profiles. From their phones, Tinder users browse photos of other members who are located within a certain geographic radius. They swipe to the right to like a picture or to the left to pass.
A recently released academic study shows that Tinder users have lower self-esteem scores than non-Tinder users, are less satisfied with their faces, and are more ashamed of their bodies. Generally speaking, females who use Tinder feel worse about themselves than male users, but male users score even lower than the female users on self-esteem, possibly because female users are more selective about liking photos.
Tinder recently announced a new feature called Tinder Social that lets groups of users swipe photos of other groups of users nearby. If two groups like each other's photos, they can coordinate social plans.
Photo credits: Pixabay.com, Apple.