14 News Special Report: 'Not so friendly apps'

14 News Special Report: 'Not so friendly apps'

WARRICK CO., IN (WFIE) - For many parents, keeping up with their teen's social media habits can be exhausting.

Who are they talking to on their phones? Are they going as far as sending pictures and making plans to meet with strangers?

Some parents might give their teens simple guidelines to follow, while others let their kids learn as they grow. Whatever you do, officials say you need to know what your kids are doing and who they're talking to when they're on their phones.

But how do you talk to them about this and how much freedom do you give them?

14 News reporter Lauren Artino talked with teens and local experts in her special report, "Not so friendly apps."

"There's too broad of a category to say 'these kinds of apps are bad,'" says Parent/Educator, Michelle Green. "Now, with that said, there are apps that are horrific and have no business being in the app store, right? I think, from my perspective as a parent and educator: Who would do this? Who would create something like this and make this accessible? I've seen apps and sites and shuddered at what could happen on these sites."

When the final bell rings at Saint John the Baptist Catholic School, the phones come out for these 8th grade girls.

Like many teens across the Tri-State, they open their favorite apps to stay in touch.

"To be honest, it plays a major role in my life because it's the first thing, I look at when I wake up, it's the last thing I look at before I go to bed," says SJB 8th grade student, Emily Roe. "It's like a thing I get sucked into."

And the apps available to them are endless, easy to find and many of them are free. For the most part, they're harmless and fun. But others.

"There's really, really good and there's really, really bad," says Lauren Munier.

Emma Johnson says she doesn't use House Party, an app where teens invite friends, who invite their friends for a virtual Facetime party.

These girls know all the popular apps, like Kik, which lets you send texts, pictures and video anonymously. And Omegle, an anonymous chat where you're paired up with a stranger.

"You put in a common interest or something and they'll just match you up to someone else who put that in.." says Munier.
This can be scary and overwhelming time for parents like Michelle Green, who are trying to stay ahead of these apps..

"I feel like I'm learning right alongside my children." says E-Learning development specialist, Michelle Green.

Michelle and her husband are raising two girls. One, a teenager, another, in her early 20s.

Michelle, who works for the Department of Education and helps families navigate through these waters has some advice for parents..

"Its not just trying to stay on top of the apps. If you tried to do that, you'd just spin out of control. there are too many things to be aware of." says Green.

So, what should a parent do? Michelle shared these tips with us.

Apps are constantly evolving, so, it's hard to monitor what your kids are doing on them. Instead, talk with your teens about the apps they use and how they use them.

Set guidelines. Michelle says she's a stickler for the age requirements set forth by some of the apps.

There are a lot of great filtering programs parents can download to track their kids' use. Try the app "Circle", run by Disney or "Norton Family".

Michelle says there's also a layer of trust and conversation that needs to happen..

"A lot of parents worry this will create a discord and because parents feel a lot of harbored interest in the phones," explained Michelle. "Kids are always on the phones, looking down. Lets get down to the core of the issue and talk about trust. And the idea that i trust you, I value my time with you.. Starting with that and building from there. I get that it sounds like you're being strict, but you have to set parameters with an end goal and the end goal is you want kids to be successful on their own."

That trust is something these teens at Saint John the Baptist say they want and need.

"We're teenagers, we're figuring out who we are," Michelle explained. "And in order to figure out who we are, we need a little bit of space."

"We are giving them opportunities to take risks and they have to manage them in a responsible way," explained Green. "But in a way that helps our kids develop their own independence. Because the worst case scenario is they get all the way through high school without any problems and then they go away from home, they haven't learned anything about managing this and now we've done them the worst disservice possible."

The teens we talked with also shared advice for kids using these apps.

"Don't do or say things online that you wouldn't do in real life," said SJB 8th grader Bridget Janney.

Emma Johnson says she doesn't follow along with what her friends are doing.

"If they're on these big, group apps, it doesn't mean i have to."

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