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8 Scary Ways That Teens Are Using Social Media, Including 1 That Caused a Girl's Murder

Feb 5 2016 - 9:33am

Bullies and rule-breaking may have existed before the digital age, but at least it was all within plain view. As our kids become old enough for social media, the possibilities of what's happening behind all of those screens is simply terrifying. Many apps for smartphones make it difficult to prevent strangers from contacting your children, which just recently led to the kidnapping and horrifying murder [1] of a 13-year-old girl, Nicole Lovell, by two Virginia Tech students who were contacting her over Kik messenger, a Canadian messaging app.

More and more parents are becoming wary of social media, though it can have its benefits if it's used in a safe way. Check out these eight trends happening on social media that every parent should be tuned into to make sure their teen is using their phone safely.

Kik Messenger

The Canadian messaging app Kik is a popular app among young teens but is now on the defensive [2] after seventh grader Nicole Lovell was kidnapped and murdered by two Virginia Tech students. The app — which has over 200 million registered users, 40 percent of which are US teens and young adults — allows users to message in groups or one on one and send videos and photos. Though it requires parent permission from users between the ages of 13 and 18, there is no way to monitor whether or not a teen puts in a false birthdate (as is the case with many smartphone apps).


It's had such dangerous repercussions that it's been blocked by Instagram, but the trend is alive and well on Twitter. Even more frightening? A quick search of #ThighGap resulted not only in girls sharing their scarily skinny selfies, but also news outlets promoting weight-loss stories on the topic. Mixed messages, much?

Down App

While it's intended for adult use, this is a good one for parents to have on their radar in case you overhear your kids talking about or attempting to download it. Formerly called Bang With Friends (really, need we say more?), the premise of Down [3] is for Facebook users to send private messages to friends within their network alerting them that they either want to "Get Date" or "Get Down" with them. Yikes.


The popular photo-share site Snapchat has two scary ramifications. First there's its intended use — to be able to share photos that disappear just seconds later, leaving parents without the ability to track what they're doing on the app. Secondly, your kids may think they're sharing pics that will only be seen by their recipients, but all their friends have to do is take a screenshot for the photo to be dispersed on the web.

Source: Snapchat [4]

Secret-Sharing Sites

The addiction that comes with reading complete strangers' deepest, darkest truths is understandable. But for impressionable tweens and teens, sites like PostSecret [5] and Whisper [6] can be dangerous confessional outlets and sources of inspiration for unhealthy and unsafe actions.


It's no surprise that Instagram and other photo-sharing sites serve as sounding boards for adolescents suffering from body image issues. Do a quick Instagram search for photos tagged with "#Frail," and you'll be appalled at what (mostly) girls are sharing. One photo included the comment "Still in my pajamas and still in bed but here's a belly check. Still fat," along with hashtags for "anorexia," "bones," and "bodycheck."


Whether it comes in the form of suggestive selfies or R-rated banter, the amount of sexual innuendo exchanged between high-school-age kids (and in some cases, even younger) would alarm and upset most parents.

Yik Yak

A relatively new gossip app called Yik Yak [7] (free) allows users to anonymously post news, shout-outs, and jokes for people in a set radius to read. The scary side effect is users anonymously posting cruel comments about their peers — from calling a classmate a derogatory term to wishing them dead. Though the app is intended for people ages 17 and older, middle and high school students have found their way onto it and are using it to bully their peers. One student even took to New York Magazine to write about the effect the app has had on his classmates [8], saying it brought his high school to a halt.

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