Kik has gotten some press lately because of its growing popularity among teens and tweens. But is it safe for your family? The consensus among informed parents is probably not.
Kik started out as a free messaging app popular among young adults, teens, and tweens. The messages are private and can be shared with a group, or just between two people. This keeps young users from letting it all hang out online, but it also prevents parents from keeping an eye on what their kids are up to.
Kik used to be a texting substitute, but it evolved into an app that ENCOURAGES talking to strangers. The app is full of Tinderesque matching options, some of which are more obviously adult and others that appear more innocent. It is also full of spammer bots, many of which send pornographic content.
Technically, no one can message you on Kik unless they know your user name. But kids (and their friends) hand out their user names too freely, especially if they have other online-only friends on other social media platforms. Spammer bots have their own ways of getting your kid’s info, of course. And the matching games in Kik make the user name superfluous anyway.
A popular Kik trend that should raise parents’ eyebrows is posting one’s Kik name on a public social media profile. This is especially common on Instagram, where kids will include something like “Kik me at ____” in their bio. Anyone who has your teen’s Kik name can send them text, picture, or video messages. If your teen’s Instagram profile is public, literally anyone with an internet connection can contact him or her.
Kik’s goal is for users to be “constantly connected.” While that might sound convenient or fun for your kids, it doesn’t help them realize that it is healthy to disconnect regularly and frequently.
Perhaps the creepiest aspect of Kik is a feature actually pointed out by a sexual predator to a local news outlet (read the story here)– the role play function. Users provide biographical information to Kik when registering, but the role play function allows them to provide a whole different set of information for their profile. A man can pretend to be a girl, a woman can pretend to be a boy, and anyone can lie about their age. It’s not hard to see why so many recent violent crimes have featured Kik.
At the very least, tweens should NOT be on Kik. Like most other social media platforms, Kik requires that all users be thirteen years of age or older. Unfortunately, there is no age verification tool, so ten to thirteen year olds are flouting the rule left and right.
For parents who have discovered an unwanted Kik app on their tween’s phone or tablet, you can email Kik, and they will send you a deactivation request form. Kik also wants teen (under 18) users to have permission from a parent or guardian before they create an account, so parents can feel free to use that as leverage.
Theoretically, a teenager could use Kik safely and innocently. But letting your child use Kik is kind of like sending a toddler to play in an unfenced playground near a busy street. Sure, nothing could happen, but the risk and the stakes are too high.
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