As a parent/carer it can be almost impossible to be aware of all the apps and sites that kids are on. As soon as you are on top of one, it is oh so yesterday and there is a new app on the block. It is not so much the name of the app (some are very misleading) but what the app actually does that a parent should be concerned with. By knowing how an app works and what it does will go a long way to helping you make an informed decision about whether or not to let your child use it. Don’t be fooled with the hollow cry of, ‘But everyone else has it’, because I can assure you they don’t. Anyway who cares? If everyone were on the roof jumping off would you allow your child to do it as well?
Much like pester power at the supermarket, some apps will get under your skin before you know it. If an app works on what I like to call the ‘lice concept’ – infest one child and get the rest, then you have to get yourself into gear and sort it out as I can promise you that your child and many other parents will not.
The latest app to hit our kids devices and us between our eyes is: Musical.ly. On the surface it seems to be a fun, karaoke type app and if you read the description on the iTunes store it will tell you that you can create amazing videos to impress your friends, in other words, a popularity contest where the number of ‘likes’ equals being popular.
So far so good you say. How could this app be harmful? Well here are some other things for you to consider.
The warnings on the side bar of the iTunes store state the app has:
1) Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humour
2) Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
3) Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes
4) Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
5) Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
Sorry, but I don’t think any of theses topics are suitable for young children and early teens. Whilst accepting that kids see and view many things online outside of a parents control, when you are aware that your child is hanging out in a place of potential harm, why are you allowing them to be there?
If you read the Terms and Conditions of Use (T&C) you will also find that a person must be over the age of 13 years to set up an account and that a person between the ages of 13 years and 18 years must have parental permission. This alone should tell you that it is far from suitable for kids under 13.
Here are some things that I think you should consider prior to allowing your child to set up an account on Musical.ly.
1) 18+ content in the songs lyrics. Swearing and adult concepts in the provided music. Some song lyrics are clearly inappropriate for children and most adults don’t hear the words anyway. Who can forget, ‘Blow My Whistle’ about, you guessed it, oral sex or ‘Dirty Talk’ by Wynter Gordon… google it if you can’t remember. Most songs come with gyrating video clips as well.
2) Musical.ly users can search for other users to view or follow near their own location/city (uses GPS technology).
3) User generated videos can be viewed and shared onto other social media and messaging apps increasing exposure. You lose control of the clip.
4) Public comments on Musical.ly, which can be nasty.
5) Friends commenting that you have ‘ruined’ their favourite song and bullying in real life as a result.
6) Users can publicise their messenger usernames or social media profiles on their Musical.ly profile.
7) Kids uploading content taken in the school grounds before school starts clearly identifying students and schools via GPS and/or uniform. Cybersafety 101 is about NOT sharing personal information.
8) Large numbers of very young kids from about 8 years old on the site.
9) Predators being able to watch the videos of your child, take them, and store them for future viewing pleasure (Yuck!).
If you have a child over 13 years and you are happy for them to use the app, then ensure that the following security settings are enabled. Go to the ‘Settings’ tab and then ensure that the ‘hide location’, info is turned on. This means that another user close by cannot search for your child, nor are they giving away their location via GPS. Also ensure that ‘private account’, is also turned on. Although your child may resist this as they cant become ‘popular’ with a private account, this is the only way to retain a small amount of control of where your child’s content ends up. Remember that once posted, you have lost control and friends today can be enemies tomorrow.
Technology is here to stay and in a few weeks or months there will be another new app to acquaint your self with. Don’t be afraid, knowledge is power so be involved in what your child does online. Keep the lines of communication open and honest and remember, there are other parents out there that say no. You are not alone. Don’t be afraid to sit down with your child and check it out. Kids are usually reasonable when there is validity behind a decision. Stay strong and remember your child’s safety is your responsibility both on and off line.
– Susan McLean