Apps to Lose

Apps to Lose

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Not even big enough to manage the swings alone, Donneiko Falls' 2-year-old girl already knows how to do something by herself: go online.

"She's actually pretty good," says Falls. "She knows how to go on the phone and go on her tablet and go to what she chooses to go to."

The toddler typically visits YouTube, and Falls has to watch closely to make sure the young eyes don't see something they shouldn't.

"Even though she knows how to go on, it's easy for her to make a mistake not knowing what she's spelling to pull up something that she has no business pulling up," she says.

In the ever-changing online world, it's possible for kids to come across something or someone that could do harm. But five apps may make it easier.

"The way we talk to our children about sex and about drugs, we need to talk to them about how they behave on social media," says Parker Sternbergh, a licensed clinical social worker with Tulane University.

One of the most popular apps in the Apple Store right now is Snapchat, a program that allows you to share a picture or video for a short amount of time. The messages are supposed to automatically delete after a few seconds but on its website, the company says sometimes the pictures and texts can remain, and screen grabs can be made of the information.

Snapchat warns against minors posting sexually explicit images and says parents need to talk to their kids about what's appropriate to post.

"My daughter's almost 16, and all of her friends are on Snapchat, and it's a way they're instantly communicating. But as a parent, I also monitor it," says Ashley Nelson, who teaches a class on social media at Tulane.

A popular app on the campus is YikYak, which allows users to post anonymous comments seen by others within a 10-mile radius.

Sternbergh says there can be a benefit to an app like this, allowing a user to be vulnerable without revealing their identity.

"So YikYak, because of the anonymity that's involved in it - and there are other sites like this - provides a place where somebody can be sharing their innermost feelings and yet not be exposed for who they are," she says.

But Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal says the anonymous nature of apps like YikYak can provide an easy forum for bullying. The department's cyber crimes investigator is currently looking into two complaints of local students being harassed through the app.

The sheriff of Polk County, Fla., says bullies used two other popular social media programs to torment 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick before she killed herself.

According to investigators, a 12- and 14-year-old posted messages like "You should die" and "Go kill yourself" on Ask.FM and Kik. Charges against the two were later dropped with their attorneys citing lack of evidence in the case. Kik allows users to send texts and pictures without the messages being logged in the phone's history. On Ask.FM, a person posts a question and other people answer. Everything on the site is anonymous.

"These children probably would have been bullies or would have been bullied, but now the volume is way up and it's quicker," says Sternbergh. "It's like making the problem stick out more."

And there's an app designed to hide all the others parents might not want their kids to access. It's called poof.

"You can then make the apps on your phone disappear," says Nelson. "So if you do have a parent monitoring it, then all of a sudden, YikYak doesn't appear and Tinder won't appear or Snapchat. They're hidden. Those are the kind of things that scare me more, because it's encouraging the kids to be sneaking as opposed to owning up to it."

Nelson says that's why parents need to talk to their kids before they even begin to use social media.

"It's like a car," she says. "You're not going to turn a car over to a kid and say, 'ok, here - you go figure it out.' And I think some people just give them access to these phones and they expect them to figure it out and they expect them to figure out social media."

Sarah Gillenwater will have that conversation with her pre-teen daughters before they ever log on.

"They just know that I'm there for them when they stumble and fall but then I'm also there telling them the honest truth about what's out there - predators and just crazy people," she says. "If it sounds too good to be true, don't do it."

There are programs that can help kids stay safe, whether they're surfing the web, chatting on social media or hanging out with friends.

We'll tell you about five apps Thursday night at 9 p.m.

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