The apps your students love… and why they might cause problems

  • The apps your students love… and why they might cause problems

From Instagram to TikTok, Jenny Moore runs through the things every teacher ought to know about their students’ favourite apps…

We all know that social media and messaging apps are a huge part of young people’s lives. According to research from Ofcom, 70% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 20% of 8- to 11-year-olds who go online have a social media profile. Whilst there can be positives to using social media and apps – such as helping children feel closer to friends and family – they do pose safeguarding risks too, so it’s important for teachers to make sure they know their Snapchat from their Whatsapp and that they’re clear on the main existing and emerging threats that apps can pose.

Instagram

What’s the deal?

Instagram is a photo and video-sharing app for smartphones. You can post content publicly or to ‘followers’, see content posted by others, ‘follow’ each other, ‘like’ posts, comment, and send direct messages. According to research from Ofcom, nearly a quarter (23%) of 12- to 15-year-olds say Instagram is their main site or app. The minimum age according to Instagram is 13, but it’s not that difficult for a younger child to set up and use. People can also quite easily set up multiple/fake accounts.

What are the risks for young people?

  • Inappropriate contact from strangers, who can see and comment on their photos and videos if their account is set to ‘public’
  • Exposure to upsetting or harmful
  • material, such as images relating to eating disorders, self-harm and suicide
  • Bullying, through fake accounts and unkind comments on posts
  • Pressure to ‘look’ a certain way – it’s an image-centred app

What is the risk level?

According to research, there’s a ‘high’ risk of seeing sexual content and bullying content on this app. ‘High risk’ here means that, when asked by the NSPCC and O2, more than 25% of children and parents reported seeing these types of content on this app. There’s also a ‘medium’ risk of seeing content related to violence and hatred, suicide and self-harm, and drink, drugs and crime. ‘Medium risk’ means that between 5% and 25% of children and parents reported seeing these types of content on the app in the same research.

What should I listen out for?

Listen out for pupils talking about Instagram, particularly those about whom you also have mental health concerns. Red flags can include upsetting or harmful material, inappropriate contact from strangers and unkind comments.

Snapchat

What’s the deal?

Snapchat is a messaging app used to share photos, videos and messages with contacts. The ‘snap’ is on screen for up to 10 seconds, then disappears; or you can opt for no time limit. You can share snaps in a sequence for up to 24 hours. The minimum age according to Snapchat is 13, but it’s not that difficult for a younger child to set up and use.

What are the risks for young people?

  • Grooming, as the app will share their location unless they use ‘ghost mode’ and strangers can send them messages/requests
  • Image-sharing without their consent, as people can save screenshots of images they post before they ‘disappear’
  • Sexting, via requests for sexual images from people they don’t know
  • Bullying, through photos being posted with unkind comments

What is the risk level?

According to research, there’s a ‘high’ risk of seeing sexual content and bullying content on this app. ‘High risk’ here means that more than 25% of children and parents reported seeing these types of content on this app when asked by the NSPCC and O2. There’s also a ‘medium’ risk of seeing content related to violence and hatred, suicide and self-harm, and drink, drugs and crime. ‘Medium risk’ means that between 5% and 25% of children and parents reported seeing these types of content on the app in the same research.

What should I listen out for?

Staff should listen out for pupils talking about Snapchat or ‘Snap’, especially talk of getting inappropriate messages or requests for photos.

Whatsapp

What’s the deal?

WhatsApp is a free, multi-function, instant messaging app that allows you to send messages, images, videos and your location, as well as make calls. The minimum age according to WhatsApp is 16, but it’s not that difficult for a younger child to set up and use.

What are the risks for young people?

  • Bullying, e.g. directly in a group chat, or by being excluded from a group
  • Sexting, as they can send and receive explicit photos
  • Grooming, if they share their location

What is the risk level?

According to research, there’s a ‘medium’ risk of seeing sexual content, bullying content, and content related to violence and hatred on this app.

‘Medium risk’ here means that, when asked by the NSPCC and O2, between 5% and 25% of children and parents reported seeing these types of content on this app.

What should I listen out for?

Staff should listen out for pupils talking about WhatsApp or ‘group chats’, especially people being unkind in groups, excluding people from groups or sharing photos, videos or locations.

Tiktok

What’s the deal?

TikTok is a video-sharing app. You can record and upload short video clips, watch other people’s videos, ‘follow’ people, gain ‘fans’, ‘like’ and comment. The minimum age according to TikTok is 13, but you don’t have to prove your age when creating an account, so younger children can still use it easily. It’s most popular with under-16s. Users cannot exchange images and videos via in-app messaging, but once they’ve made contact they move on to another platform to trade, such as Snapchat.

What are the risks for young people?

  • Exposure to explicit or inappropriate videos, such as pornography and upsetting/harmful content, and age-inappropriate lyrics
  • Strangers seeing videos they have shared, if their account is set to ‘public’; and anyone can see their profile information
  • Contact from strangers asking to ‘trade’ explicit images/videos
  • Feeling pressured to record inappropriate or explicit videos to gain more followers

What is the risk level?

TikTok is a newer/emerging app to be aware of (it was formerly called Musical.ly). At the moment it still has a reputation for being comparatively free of trolling and danger, but there are some known risks. There have been reports of some users harassing children for nude images and videos.

What should I listen out for?

Staff should listen out for pupils talking about TikTok, especially talk of videos that sound inappropriate or of being asked to ‘trade’ or swap pictures/videos.

If you have any concerns about children using these apps, or any others, you should share this with your Designated Safeguarding Lead (or deputy) and follow your school’s safeguarding procedures (as for any safeguarding concern). It’s worth remembering that new functionalities and apps are appearing all the time, and many of the risks outlined on these pages could be present for any app.

About the author

Jenny Moore is a lead content editor at The Key (thekeysupport.com), a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act.

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