WhatsApp was launched in 2010. It is an ad-free, encrypted, free messaging, and video and voice calling app that lets you send images, video, text, audio, or documents (up to 100 MB). In addition to person to person communication, WhatsApp allows chat groups of up to 256 users. A recent addition to WhatsApp is the ability to create WhatsApp Status, which lets you share photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users must set up WhatsApp using a valid phone number for account confirmation.
WhatsApp works on Android, iPhone, Mac or Windows PC, Blackberry, Nokia, or Windows Phone. It can also be accessed on the web, but has to be connected to your smart phone account through the WhatsApp settings. Users must be at least 13 years old to create an account. WhatsApp is owned by Facebook, since 2014.
Why Kids Like WhatsApp
WhatsApp is more attractive to kids than other instant messaging apps because it only needs a phone number to set up, and is works on a wide variety of platforms. Kids may also like the fact that it’s popular with younger people. WhatsApp allows groups, and participants can share all sorts of files with each other very easily.
Dangers of WhatsApp
WhatsApp is not a social networking app, but rather a messaging app. With the recent addition of Status, WhatsApp is broadening its reach, and may be considered social media. There are few dangers of children accidentally stumbling across inappropriate content in the app. Possible dangers in using WhatsApp include:
- There are public groups in WhatsApp on a variety of topics, including adult topics and self-harm. These groups cannot be found in the app, and it is unlikely that children will develop these behaviors from using WhatsApp.
- It’s easy for users to share locations with other users.
- Anyone in the same group as a users can see the user’s profile.
- Teens can choose to limit access to WhatApp Status to particular contacts, and could hide them from parents that way.
- Predators who groom children in social media apps, usually move to messaging tools like WhatsApp when they have built trust.
- Conversations can be easily deleted.
- Teens may use the messaging app to bully each other or to be mean, such as excluding a peer from a WhatsApp group.
- Interested users can use WhatsApp for sexting.
Making WhatsApp Safer
There are few WhatsApp settings that can be modified to make WhatsApp safer. The main settings to explore and change concern privacy.
- Create an account, and let your child use your account.
- Learn how to use WhatsApp, including Status, to help your child navigate it.
- Change the profile privacy settings to set who can see the profile photo, about, status, and last access.
- Change media auto-download settings so audio and video don’t auto-download.
- Show your teen how to block or delete users, or report inappropriate messaging.
- Monitor use and talk to your child openly about their use of WhatsApp.
- Speak to your child about how grooming, and other online dangers, and keep the lines of communication open. Ask them to let you know about interactions with friends who they haven’t met offline.
- Agree with your child about how they can use Status.
- Talk about sexting with children, and help them understand the dangers.
- Turn off location settings.
- To learn more about this topic, see reviews from Protect Young Eyes, Parent Info, Common Sense Media, and NSPCC NetAware.