Have you ever heard of WhatsApp? Maybe your kid is already one of its 700 Million active users. WhatsApp has been around for a while, but we can see that exchanging WhatsApp contact information has become a huge trend on social media. WhatsApp is the new SMS, but is opposite to a text message totally free of charge. Sounds like it is too good to be true, right? We made some research to find out what every parent would want to know about it.
What is it?
WhatsApp is a mobile messenger that allows you to communicate with all your contacts on your device for free. Users can send unlimited images, video and text and also create group chats.
How does it work?
You need a valid phone number as your username. Then it is easy to start chatting with all your contacts the same way you would with the SMS application on your phone. You only need your contacts to have downloaded WhatsApp, and then you can send them all the messages, pictures and videos you want – but for free. No passwords or usernames are required, instead you verify by using your phone number.
So, what do you need to know as a parent?
1. Giving out WhatsApp is giving out private information!
We here at watAgame can clearly see that children very easily share their WhatsApp contact information on social media services like Momio and goSupermodel. “Do you have WhatsApp?”, “Do you wanna join my group on WhatsApp?” and “I can only send you pictures on WhatsApp, can I have your number?” are only some examples of questions we see in the chats. In order to use WhatsApp you need the other person’s phone number. And a phone number is not something you normally share to anyone – it is private information. Children tend to forget that WhatsApp is private and should also be treated as private information!
2. Your kid should be 16+ years old to use it!
Despite of its age limit of 16, lots of children use WhatsApp. The children that use our social media platform Momio and ask for WhatsApp are clearly below 16. But why should they be 16+ to use WhatsApp? The Net Nanny blog – also featured in New York Times and the Herald Tribune – explains why WhatsApp is so appealing to teens and children. Users can easily set up new chat groups, find and add new friends. But it also makes everything more secretive. Who is your child chatting with? What is being said? Are pictures being sent? Clearly WhatsApp wants to protect children from this kind of exposure to content, people or situations they are not emotionally prepared for. The following excerpt from the WhatsApp terms of service confirms this: “…and no part of the WhatsApp Service is directed to or intended to be used by persons under 16” .
3. It’s easy share your location and contacts with others!
It is clear that many teens and grown-ups use WhatsApp. According to a study the typical WhatsApp user is between 18-44 years (average 36 years old). You can easily share all your contacts but also your location. In our opinion this is a safety concern when used by children. Do you want some stranger to know the location of your child? Do you want your child’s contacts spread to other WhatsApp users? We assume the answer is no. We know it is possible to hide your location, but we are not so sure that children think about this.
4. On WhatsApp you are connected 24/7
WhatsApp is not something you can turn on or off as you like. It is there on your smartphone, as long as you have it installed on your device. This means that your child is connected 24/7 and might find it difficult to stop responding to and sending new messages.
You might be using WhatsApp yourself and you think it is great. Fair enough! WhatsApp is worldwide the biggest mobile messenger and it is a fantastic service – and it’s completely free! But if you have any concerns about the listed issues in this article, you should probably make sure your child becomes a teenager before using WhatsApp. In the meantime let them use social media that is made for kids. And last but not least, don’t forget to discuss these concerns with your child next time they want to use WhatsApp. Because in the end, it is not about the number 16, it is about being aware of the risks – also for your kid.
We collected some key information about WhatsApp, SMS and Momio into a table. Have a look!