The Colorado sexting story that has been in the news lately is a valuable teaching moment for all of us, including parents. Mom and dad, this is your opportunity to have that uncomfortable conversation with your kids and teens about sexting and other harmful online behaviors. You do not need to be a tech expert to have this discussion, but it is a good idea to understand what these apps are, and how to find them.
How to Find The 'Vault' Photo Apps
Vault or Ghost photo apps are apps that disguise themselves as one thing (a calculator, a game, or a file manager) but with the correct passcode open the 'vault' to hidden photos or videos. Parents can do a search in the App Store for Vault and hundreds of results will come up. Here are a few below. Note: The following images are searches from iOS devices. I suggest doing a Google search for how to find vault apps on Android devices.
So how do you know if your child has a 'vault'? First, you can check their phone for what seems to be duplicate apps, like two calculators. Another way is to do a 'vault' search in the App Store from their phone or tablet. If the vault app is not on their phone, the word "GET" appears next to the app for download. However, if the app is already on the phone the word "OPEN" appears next to the app. This means that the app is already downloaded on the device. Note: There are hundreds of these apps so scroll through a few pages to be safe. See the photo below. I have Facebook and Facebook Messenger on my phone, so when I search the App Store for Facebook, this is the result:
How to Prevent Kids from Using Vault Apps
If you want to do your best to keep these apps from your kids' devices, set parental controls and restrictions upfront. Many of the new Family Sharing plans require kids to 'Ask Permission' to download any app, even free apps. This will help you to take control of what apps they are using. Check with your mobile plan provider or look for parental controls or restriction options on the device itself.
Let's Talk About Sexting
This is going to be uncomfortable for everybody but a conversation needs to take place. Hopefully, you have already discussed acceptable use of technology in your home. It is a good idea to have this conversation early, and have it often. We all, of course, hope that our own children will never be involved in this kind of behavior, but as you know, the teen brain is not wired to consider consequences. Teens are dealing with hormonal changes and development, impulse control and peer pressure. All of these factors can lead to poor decision-making. Talk to your child about the harmful effects of sexting. Make sure they understand that once these photos are sent, they are out of their control and can be saved, shared, and posted online. What is shared online is permanent, there really is no delete button, so have them consider that these photos will follow them as they apply to college, look for employment, and start a family.
If it already happened, help them to get through it with understanding. We all make mistakes and this too shall pass. Try "So You got Naked Online" for some tips on how to move forward.
Encourage Good Digital Citizenship
Finally, talk to your kids about what it means to be a good digital citizen. At the recent DigCit Summit we defined it as the savvy, safe and ethical use of technology. It's important that we talk to our kids about using technology for good, for learning, and for expanding their horizons. Use social media and digital technologies to present the best of themselves, connect with others who have shared interests and to build a well-rounded picture of how they want to present themselves to the outside world. As parents, it is important that we address and include the technology whenever we talk to our kids about our family values, goals and responsibilities.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.