Tag Archives: SMS

6 Apps That Parents Should Know About

By Tracey Dowdy

Nothing makes me feel my age faster than a conversation with a 14-year-old about what’s trending, cool, or hip. Yeah, I said “hip”. Told you I was old.

Once I’ve stopped crying into my Sanka (do they even make Sanka anymore?), I pause and give thanks that I am not a teen today. As a teen in the 80’s, my high school years were pretty John Hughes-ish – it was sorta the law back then. Now with the pervasive presence of social media, middle and high school can sometimes feel more like a Stephen King novel. Smartphones and tablets mean photos and rumors can spread faster than a California wildfire and do just as much damage.

As parents, we have a responsibility to at least try and be aware of what’s out there, because let’s be honest, if we’ve heard of it and like it, our kids are probably already over it.

What’s important to remember, as with all areas of parenting, is not to panic. Not every teen is sexting, sending nudes or using social media to ruin reputations and lives. Engaging in open, frank discussions with your teens about risks and boundaries in social media use helps protect them from the long term consequences of spur of the moment decisions.

1. Yik Yak is free, location aware and allows users to post “anything and everything” anonymously. “Yik Yak works like an anonymous bulletin board, displaying messages from people in a user’s area that can be voted ‘up’ or ‘down’ on the page.  Tyler Droll, founder and CEO of Yik Yak, said the app was designed to be like ‘a city’s central plaza or campus bulletin board.’” But instead of posters of what band is playing this weekend or pictures of a lost cat, that “bulletin board” is rife with gossip, slander and character assassination. In other words, it’s a bully’s dream come true. When a user posts, the “yak” goes out to the 500 closest (geographically) users. There’s no way to determine whether or not the “yakking” is true, leaving the target to defend themselves from an invisible bully.

2. Snapchat allows users to share photos or video that disappears 10 seconds after the message is opened. Every day, 400 million photos are shared via Snapchat, and initially, the only way to keep the photo was to grab a quick screen cap. Now, software is readily available that allows recipients to capture and repost those images.

3. Similarly, Vine allows users to post looping 6 second videos. For the most part, it’s harmless videos of teens doing what teens do best – skateboard demos, impersonations of their parents, or trying to make the cat dance – but the danger is that some post pornographic videos. Vine removed users’ ability to search for the #XXX or #NSFW hashtags, but the content remains on the site. Be aware anyone can search for users, follow them, log their location, comment, and then connect through other social media sites, potentially putting individuals at risk.

4. This brings us to Chatroulette. This app lets anyone with a webcam engage in video chats with strangers. Their terms of use set 18 as their age restriction but again, in the wild west of the internet, no one is following up to make sure users aren’t lying about their age. Nudity is forbidden and can get you kicked off the site, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

5. Secret Folder allows users to hide photos, videos or text messages and disguises them as a group of apps. The “apps” serve as a keypad and have to be tapped in the correct order to unlock the content. Because the app looks like an innocuous group of individual apps and because of the password protection, it’s easy to keep content hidden.

6. Kik Messenger bypasses your wireless provider’s SMS service allowing users to share text and photos without them showing up in your history. Kik’s Terms of Service forbids nudity and any other form of pornography but again, that doesn’t mean everyone plays by the rules. A quick search of “Kik nudes” proves that. Kik does offer a downloadable parent’s guide, useful for understanding what Kik is about and helping your child to use Kik and similar apps safely.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

7 Messaging Apps That Are Replacing SMS

When texting first became popular, most texts were sent via a wireless carrier’s network. This service (also known as SMS) used to be a huge revenue-generator for the carriers, but is now largely bundled with ‘free’ voice or calling plans as the carriers switch their attention to data.

If you are still using SMS to text your family and friends, then rest assured you are not alone. Despite all the chatter about WhatsApp, SnapChat, Messenger and the rest, SMS remains the #1 messaging option for an overwhelming majority of smartphone owners.

But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way forever. The ability to add multimedia functions, group chats, video calls, and much more is quickly adding to the allure of messaging apps, and it seems only a matter of time before they catch up and even surpass the popularity of SMS.

If you have a teenage son or daughter, it’s almost guaranteed that they are using at least one messaging app. If you are thinking of joining them, here are 7 of the more popular options:

Facebook Messenger

messengerTNUp until now, Facebook included a messaging feature in its social network app, so there was no need for a separate download. However, Facebook has just announced that all future mobile messaging will have to be done through the stand-alone Messenger app. Desktop users will be able to continue to use the built-in messaging app as before.

Messenger includes text, group chat, photo and video sharing options, and even stickers. The good thing about Facebook is that almost everyone is on it, so you won’t have to spend time adding all your contacts.

Cost: Free
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry


whatsappTNWith over 500 million active users, WhatsApp is arguably the most popular messaging app in the world – so popular, in fact, that Facebook agreed to pay $19 billion to acquire it! WhatsApp’s strength is its simplicity. Once the app is downloaded, WhatsApp checks your contacts and automatically adds WhatsApp users. You don’t need to send a request to be able to connect through WhatsApp.

WhatsApp supports text messages, group messages, photos and videos, and audio media messages. WhatsApp management has also announced that they are developing a voice option, which will be the equivalent of making a phone call.

Cost: $0.99 per year (first year free)
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone


skypeTNEstablished as a desktop tool, Skype has made an uneven transition to mobile, disappointing some early adopters and encouraging other messaging services to step up and fill the void. The Skype mobile app supports text messaging, photos and videos, and face-to-face video and voice calls over Wi-Fi or a wireless network. There is also a low-cost voice calling option to mobile devices and landlines.

Cost: Free (with the exception of some calling options)
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone

Google Hangouts

hangoutsTNAlthough Google Hangouts supports an instant text messaging service, its real strength is in multi-person voice and video chats. The video chat option is particularly appealing and supports a number of increasingly sophisticated production options. The messaging app is very basic but it does support photos and GIFs, which can be automatically saved in a Google+ album.

Cost: Free
Platform: iOS, Android


snapchatTNExtremely popular among tweens and teens, SnapChat started life as an instant photo-sharing service that allowed users to add a text caption. The photos automatically disappeared after a few seconds, leading to (largely unfounded) fears of teen sexting. SnapChat also supports plain text chat and has recently added Stories, which allows users to video chat simply by pressing and holding the screen.

SnapChat’s success has attracted the attention of Facebook but so far SnapChat’s founders have rebuffed all acquisition attempts. Both Facebook (Slingshot) and Instagram (Bolt) have recently introduced SnapChat competitors, although Bolt is not yet available in the U.S.

Cost: Free
Platform: iOS, Android


lineTNPopular overseas, LINE supports free voice and video calls as well as regular text messaging, photos and more. Although the app is fee to download, users can spend money on a range of in-app purchases, which include stickers, games and even messages from celebrities. Music and shopping services are expected to follow.

Cost: Free with some optional in-app purchases
Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone


kikTNWith the decline of BlackBerry (and the beloved BBM), there was an obvious need for a smart and flexible cross-platform messaging tool. Enter Kik, a rapidly-evolving messaging service that now has over 100 million users. With Kik you can exchange text messages, videos, images, emoticons, and more, and features like Kik Cards allow for a surprising level of customization.

Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone