WhatsApp for Kids: Exploring Safety Concerns and Tips for Parents
Your kids may be pestering you to allow them to get WhatsApp on their phone or other device. If this is the case, you’re no doubt wondering if it’s a good idea and, if you do allow them to use the app, how to monitor their activity and keep them safe online.
Is WhatsApp for kids? Keep reading, as we’ve got everything you need to know below.
- What is WhatsApp?
- Why is WhatsApp Popular Among Kids?
- Is WhatsApp Safe for Kids?
- Safety Tips for Parents
- Parental Control on WhatsApp
What is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is an online app that can be used to send messages and make phone calls. As well as text messages, users can send videos and images. WhatsApp is free to download and use, although your internet/phone provider may charge you if you exceed your data allowance.
The app can be a great way to stay connected with friends and family members and is very easy to use. WhatsApp is available cross-platform and can be used on iOS and Android devices as well as desktop computers.
Why is WhatsApp Popular Among Kids?
WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps around the world, with around two billion active monthly users globally. As mentioned above, it’s incredibly easy to use and offers end-to-end encryption, meaning that all messages and calls exchanged over the platform are secure, and can only be viewed by the sender and the recipient—even WhatsApp itself can’t access them.
Kids love the group messaging feature, which is a fun way for children to stay in touch with family members and friends, and the facility to add gifs and emojis to their messages. The ability to send videos and images, which can be taken in-app, and create fun, interactive elements like surveys for their friends to complete, also makes this platform a hit with children.
Is WhatsApp Safe for Kids?
When considering ‘is WhatsApp for kids?’ It’s important to be aware that the app is officially rated as being suitable for those aged sixteen and over. However, many parents allow their younger kids or teens to use the app—if you’re thinking about doing so, it’s vital to be aware of the risks. Knowing these dangers means you can make an informed decision and take the steps needed to keep your child as safe as possible online.
Contact from Strangers
The most obvious risk that comes with using Whatsapp is that your child could receive unwanted contact or contact from a stranger. This could be via a direct message, an add, or invitation to join a group.
There is also the risk that kids could be exposed to inappropriate or upsetting content via messages, videos, or images sent via the WhatsApp platform. Due to the end-to-end encryption, messages are completely unmonitored by the platform itself, meaning that there are no ‘trigger’ words or type of content that would raise a red flag within the app.
Location Sharing Facility
WhatsApp features a live location-sharing facility that allows users to share where they are with others—when it comes to assessing whether or not the platform is safe, being aware of this feature is vital.
Using any form of messaging or social media app can leave kids vulnerable to cyberbullying, and this includes WhatsApp. Plus, there’s also the chance that children will feel excluded if they’re left out of a group chat or removed from a group.
WhatsApp has features such as ‘view once’ and disappearing messages, which could pose a potential risk: kids may end up oversharing due to these things. Further, inappropriate content could be sent with no way for a parent to exercise any form of monitoring or control due to the fact that this content vanishes.
Pressure to Reply Promptly
Another issue that can be caused by WhatsApp is the pressure kids may feel to reply to messages quickly. By default, the app is set to show when other users are online when they were last active, and if they’ve read a message, all of which can mean that children feel stressed about staying on top of their messages and writing a response promptly. In turn, this can impact children’s ability to concentrate on their school or homework, or simply relax and unwind.
There is the facility to turn off the read receipt feature, so that users who have sent your child a message won’t be able to see if it’s been read—this may relieve some of the pressure your child or teen may otherwise feel.
Safety Tips for Parents
If you decide to allow your child to use WhatsApp, there are several important things you can do to ensure they enjoy a safe, healthy online experience.
Change the WhatsApp Privacy Settings
To help your kid stay safe while using WhatsApp, use the privacy control settings (or show your older child how to use them). The default setting allows everyone to view a user’s profile photo, status, and about details. However, changing this setting to ‘My Contacts’ means that only people from their contacts list will be able to see this information.
To prevent your child from being added to a group by an individual they don’t know, in the settings section, choose ‘My Contacts Except’ and then select all their contacts using the tick icon. This means that any user will need to send your child an invitation first before adding them to a group.
Use the Safety Features
To help keep your child safer on WhatsApp, it’s important to make them aware of the app’s safety features, which allow them to, for example, block or report users who send inappropriate, offensive, or upsetting messages or other content.
Disable the Location Sharing Feature
Key to keeping your child or teen safe on WhatsApp is ensuring that the app’s location-sharing feature is disabled. To do this, simply head into their device’s settings section and turn off the location services for WhatsApp. You may want to check your kid’s device regularly to make sure that that feature hasn’t been re-enabled.
Talk About How to Use WhatsApp Safely
Talking with your child about the importance of staying safe online —and ways to do so—is one of the most crucial things you can do to keep your kid secure. When they’re not aware of the dangers, it can be easy for kids to stray into hazardous situations or overshare without realizing the risks inherent in doing so.
Aim to foster open and honest conversation around online use and safety at home, and teach your kids about what is and isn’t ok to share on WhatsApp. Let them know that if anything at all happens on the platform that makes them uncomfortable in any way, it’s important to share what’s happened with yourself or another trusted adult.
Parental Control on WhatsApp
While there are no parental control settings in WhatsApp, there are other tools you can deploy to help keep your child safe. One of the most effective apps on the market right now to do this is Kids360.
Stay Safe with Kids360
The Kids360 app can be used to set daily screen limits for apps like WhatsApp and games and allows you to monitor how much time your child is spending on various apps and platforms. And if you decide, on consideration, that you’d rather your child not yet have access to WhatsApp at all? No problem, Kids360 can be used to totally block it.
The Kids360 app can be downloaded onto your child’s device and paired with a partner app on your smartphone.
Kids360 incorporates parental controls, allowing parents to set screen time limits, manage app usage, and monitor their child’s progress. With Kids360, children can have fun, learn, and explore the digital world in a secure and controlled environment.
Navigating parenthood in the era of social media and messaging apps is tricky, and figuring out whether and when to allow your child access to platforms such as WhatsApp can be difficult, especially when your kid tells you that all their friends are using them.
Trust your intuition: you will know what’s best for your child, and what they’re ready for. If you do decide to allow your kids to access WhatsApp, make sure you’re fully familiar with the app yourself, and the features that can be enabled to keep your child as safe as possible. Used in conjunction with a parental control app such as Kids360, you can have the peace of mind that both you and your child have the tools to enjoy a safe and happy online experience.
Cover image source: Julija Sulkovska/Shutterstock.com
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