More than two years ago, I wrote a post imploring parents to be aware of the app Kik, which is very popular with teens and tweens, and the potential problems associated with it. Kik is an anonymous app, so it hides not only your child's identity but also the identity of the people with whom they are interacting on this messaging app.
Kik now has more than 275 million registered users, yet many parents have just recently heard of the app and there is some serious and disturbing information about Kik that parents need to know.
It has been in the headlines following the murder of Nicole Lovell, a 13-year-old girl in Virginia who was stabbed to death, allegedly by an 18-year-old Virginia Tech freshman with whom the girl had an inappropriate relationship via Kik. When she threatened to expose the relationship, he killed her. (These are all allegations at this point. The 18-year-old and a friend who assisted him have both been arrested and charged, but not tried.)
Following Nicole's murder, Kik requested that the age rating in the Apple Store be raised from 9+ to 12+, which it was. I fail to see how that remedies anything, particularly given that Nicole was 13 years old, and that Kik requires users to be 13. Teens between 13 and 18 are supposed to have a parent's permission to use Kik, but Kik execs acknowledge that there is no technical way to enforce that or to prevent a child from lying about their birthday.
Many parents are thinking, "Yes, bad things sometimes happen, but not to my kid." But it's possible that the parents involved in several other events that resulted in an adult has been charged as a result of their behavior on Kik involving minors thought the same thing. In less than two weeks, the following charges have been filed in states around the country:
* A New York man who posed as a teenager on Kik and sent a 14-year-old girl sexually explicit messages and tried to get her to meet him now faces charges of first-degree disseminating indecent material to minors, a felony, and endangering the welfare of a child;
* After contacting a 14-year-old girl via Kik, an Alabama man is charged with statutory rape and the attempted kidnapping;
▪ A St. Louis man who was the head of the Kik group "youngtorture" is charged with using Kik to exchange child pornography;
* A volunteer teacher's assistant in Maryland is charged with child pornography, sexual abuse of a minor and second-degree sexual offense after a relative found that a child had sent him naked photos via Kik;
* In Kentucky, a teacher is charged with distributing matter portraying a sex act by a minor via Kik;
* A Colorado man faces charges of second-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor after he was found in a hotel room with a missing 13-year-old girl after chatting and arranging the meeting with her on Kik.
These instances illustrate that Kik can be a problematic app and that it holds some appeal for predators. This is really scary stuff, I know. But we need to be aware, and we need to talk about it, especially with our kids, so that they are also aware. Use the headlines to help them understand that not everyone is who they claim to be online.
We need to make them aware of the potential issues that arise on social media, and particularly social media that can be used anonymously. Anonymity is a whole different ball game, and one that is difficult for a lot of kids (and adults) to know how to navigate.
I think it's entirely reasonable for parents to insist that kids not use any apps or networks that allow anonymous interaction until they are well into their teens and have demonstrated maturity and responsibility in their online and social media interactions.
When I was reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets a few days ago, I was struck by what Mr. Weasley says to his daughter Ginny, "Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain." It reminded me of one of my favorite pieces of advice for kids and their parents from Kortney Peagram of Bulldog Solution: If someone is not your friend in the physical world, he/she is probably not your friend online.
Please like Between Us Parents on Facebook.
If you would like to get emails of Between Us Parents posts, please type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.