Is WhatsApp Safe for Kids? Here’s What You Should Know
**This post was updated on Dec. 7, 2020**
Are you familiar with WhatsApp? There are many potential positives to using the app, but there are also potential issues to be aware of. You may be wondering, "Is WhatsApp safe for my child?" You'll probably be relieved to know that Bark monitors the app for signs of digital dangers. Here’s what you need to know about the platform.
What is WhatsApp?
WhatsApp is an instant messaging service that lets people with different mobile devices message each other. There’s no cost to using the app, as it uses regular internet data the same way that checking your email on a smartphone does. While pretty much all phones come with the ability to send text messages, WhatsApp is an alternative that doesn’t charge you SMS fees. The service is often used to keep in touch with people who are traveling internationally — or those who live in different countries. Users can create groups and share pictures, audio, and video messages as long as they’re connected to the internet.
Is WhatsApp Safe for Kids?
While it can be a useful app for many adults, WhatsApp may not be appropriate for all teens. It can be to assume the platform poses no issues, and therefore not realize it needs monitoring. Some kids like using WhatsApp because they know that many parents are less familiar with it than with regular texting. As a result, teens may believe they won’t get caught sending inappropriate messages on WhatsApp.
Sending Inappropriate Content
Is WhatsApp safe in terms of sexual content? The potential dangers of WhatsApp are similar to those of any other devices or apps that allow for online interaction, as it can be used for sexting, cyberbullying, or other types of worrisome content. Hundreds of people can share messages in a group using WhatsApp. Like other group messaging apps, this makes it easy for several people to target and cyberbully someone in the group. This feature also provides a way to spread rumors or photos of another person to many others quickly. Private photos and conversations can be downloaded and screenshots can be taken and shared in a matter of seconds.
One of the major downsides of WhatsApp from a parent’s point of view is that anyone can create an account, and there is no filter for adult content. Anyone can view any content sent to them, and there are no enforcement features that ensure users meet the age requirement of being 16 or older.
WhatsApp also has a feature called Channels, which is reminiscent of Snapchat's Discover page. It's a "one-way broadcast" for users to share content with followers. Technically anyone can make a channel, but it seems to be utilized most by companies, publications, and celebrities to share information with their WhatsApp audience. This is yet another way kids could encounter inappropriate content, depending on who they follow.
In November 2020, WhatsApp added a setting that allows users to enable disappearing messages. With this new update, someone can elect to have their conversation with someone automatically erase after one week. Luckily, you have the option to turn this feature off, but it's worth noting that you will need to make sure it's off for each individual contact your child chats with — there isn't a way to change this on an account level. Plus, there's nothing to stop your child from simply enabling disappearing messages again once you've disabled them, so make sure you talk to them about how nothing truly disappears online.
How to Disable Disappearing Messages on WhatsApp
1. Open your child's WhatsApp app.
2. Click a contact's name.
3. Tap "disappearing messages."
4. Turn them off.
Is WhatsApp Secure?
WhatsApp takes security seriously. There is no server that stores messages after they are delivered. Calls are encrypted on both ends so that third parties cannot overhear conversations. Additionally, not even WhatsApp can read messages sent to their users.
This technology is both a blessing and a curse. The positive side is that kids have a secure way to speak to people. The negative side is when they speak to someone they shouldn’t, kids might think they have the freedom to say whatever they want and their guardians won’t find out because of these security features.
It’s not exactly true that only the intended recipients of a message can view it. It’s more accurate to say that only people who have the phone a message is sent to or from can view it. The app doesn’t have password protection, so anyone can access the app on someone’s phone and look at all their messages. Additionally, there are ways to record messages by screenshotting them or by using a recording app.
What Are the Potential Dangers?
Kids may say that parents are overreacting or overprotective when worrying about how they’re using WhatsApp. However, there is an inherent danger present on all apps that allow anyone to contact others. For example, maybe a “friend of a friend” gets added to a group chat, but this person is not really who they say they are. In these kinds of situations, sexual predators can target children and groom them in an attempt to get them to share inappropriate photos, sometimes with an ultimate goal of secretly meeting in real life. All that being said, is WhatsApp safe? Putting monitoring protections in place and have regular conversions about online safety can really reduce the risk that your child might run into something dangerous on the platform.
Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.