When we were kids we played Whac-A-Mole at the arcade. These days we play it with our teenagers—and the steady stream of new apps that pop up weekly, requiring us to wade into the stinky gym-locker of our teen’s online world to investigate. Keeping up with all the new ways our kids have to interact and socialize (and, yes, also learn) is a big job; one that can feel never-ending.
But it’s important that we do it.
Trust, but verify.
Because we all want to raise kids who will become trustworthy adults, but we also know there's a gap between knowledge and understanding—and that's where teens live. We've told them about the permanence of the internet and that anything they put out there will stay out there. We've warned them not everyone they meet online will be who they say they are. We've given them the "sexting talk" (haven't done that one, yet? Here are some words of advice on how to get the conversation started.) But even after we've done our due diligence and talked to them about what not to do—chances are they'll still make some mistakes. Because that's how this growing-up thing works.
So it's our job to keep fighting the battle to stay informed even as the front lines shift from Facebook to Snapchat to Calculator%. The more you know as a parent, the more “teachable moments” you’ll be able to find in your everyday conversations with your kids. There’s also the built-in benefit that simply letting your kids know you have some insight into their world may make them less likely to take advantage of perceived parental ignorance.
We're here to help. So below are a handful of the latest apps to come across your teenager's radar:
(Calculator%, Private Photo Vault, Best Secret Folder, KYMS)
This group of password-protected apps allows users to store photos outside of the phone’s usual camera function. With features like deceptive user interfaces (the app looks like a calculator until you click on it and enter a password) and "mugshot" (which snaps a photo of anyone holding the phone after, say, three unsuccessful password attempts) it’s too easy to imagine teens getting a buzz just from the secretive nature of using one of these.
An app of this sort is what teens were using to store photos in the "Colorado sexting ring" that's been in the news recently.
These apps let users live-stream events from their point of view. Capable of producing cool—even, yes, educational—results. Also capable of putting broadcasting technology into the hands of humans whose undeveloped judgment means they may not have the sense to realize what they’re about to broadcast is hurtful, embarrassing, or private. Best case scenario is that your aspiring journalist or talk-show host has a new outlet for practicing her skills. Worst case scenario is so bad I can’t even write about it without weeping.
BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A SENSE OF HUMOR
(MM Nails, RunPee, Push For Pizza, Yo)
Because it's important to remember that sometimes technology isn't scandalous or dangerous—it's just plain goofy.
MM Nails: This app lets users send 3D holograms of their nails to friends. The downside? The App is free, but the faux nails that make the holograms work are gonna cost you.
RunPee: Choose your movie, leave your phone on vibrate, and let this app tell you when’s the best time to take a potty break. You can also read a summary of events you missed when you get back to your seat.
Push For Pizza: What happens when five hungry college students create an app. Push a button, get a pizza delivered to your door. These guys get bonus points for creating a brand marketing tool out of a Lamborghini, and calling it the "Lamborghizza."
Yo: So simple it’s hard to imagine a way for teens to abuse this. “You have a list of your best friends, you tap them, their phone shouts Yo.”
Knowledge is power—especially when you combine it with a healthy dose of respect, an extra helping of patience, and a sense of humor.