Kik Messenger – Kicking Up a Stink
Kik Messenger boasts 80 million users worldwide, and yet many parents haven’t heard of it. It’s a popular app with kids, but police warn that it is “the number one social media problem for teenagers.”
What is it? Kik Messenger is a chat service. Like iMessage or Facebook’s inbox or even SMS on mobile phones, Kik provides another way to send text and photo messages.
Kikking up Some Dirt…
Last month the app was linked to the disappearance of a 14-year-old Australian schoolgirl. She had befriended a 17-year-old boy on Kik; they arranged to meet secretly; and the two ran away. Fortunately the girl was found a day or so later, despite a lack of assistance from Kik. The girl’s father said, “It was disappointing that they couldn’t get more information when they first uncovered a lead pointing to the Kik app. The first feedback they got indicated that unless someone was dead or it was a case of child molestation or pornography, no one was interested in giving any information.” Read more here.
Their experience of not finding support from Kik is repeated several times by parents commenting on the app elsewhere on the internet.
A Few Reasons Why Kids Like Kik
- Kik is an app that blends texting with lots of cool social networking features.
- The app itself is bright, attractive, and easy to use.
- Part of Kik’s appeal comes from its status as a secretive haven. Unlike Facebook, the app is not overrun with parents.
- Kik doesn’t have character limits, it’s free (for the basic Kik app), and it is quick.
- Because messages are sent via the internet rather than the cellular network, the messages aren’t counted against the phone plan’s SMS allowance.
- Kik advises users that their message has been sent, delivered, and read, which is a handy feature that some other texting apps don’t include.
- Kik offers a fun array of related apps that make using Kik more fun. Photobomb, OinkText, HeyHey are some of the fun names. While the Kik app is free, most of the related apps come at a price.
What Parents Should Know About Kik
- The app itself specifies that users should be over the age of 17. For this reason, the app doesn’t include parental controls. Privacy settings are basic.
- Kik has been identified by Australian police as an application that has been associated with sexual predators, sextortion, and cyberbullying.
- The app does not provide good follow-up options for users who experience problems. In instances of cyberbullying and suspected crime, parents have reported an inability to obtain records or logs of conversations.
Kik + Instagram
The combination can cause problems. Teens are known to have hundreds, even thousands of followers–most of whom are unknown to them. If the student is posting quotes, artsy photos, etc (rather than personal photos), this is not too problematic. Comments are all “out in the open,” and blocking is pretty straightforward if someone misbehaves. However, if the young person adds “Kik me @ (Kik username)” to their Instagram profile, any of those unknown followers can move from Instagram to Kik and have a private chat, where there is no scrutiny of the crowd. This is how some kids find themselves in uncomfortable (or even dangerous) situations. Predators frequently take advantage of the less public forum.
If your child is not yet 17, don’t allow Kik. Just say no. Not having it won’t kill your child. There are other ways of sending text messages that are somewhat safer, but do remember that kids can feel and be ostracised by not having access to the same social media sites (and devices). Listen, empathise, and DON’T back down (until they’re 17).
Kik isn’t “bad” in itself. It doesn’t promote sex, drugs, or foul language–but some Kik users do–and it’s very hard to regulate who your child interacts with on the site. Best to stay away from this one until they’re older.
Want to Know More?
This article from the Sydney Morning Herald outlines the basics.
Here’s the Cybersafety Lady’s video that talks you through Kik’s features and risks.
Creative Commons Image Credit: Joe Hastings