This piece originally featured in issue 6 of Digital Parenting magazine.
Kids love live-streaming apps. Here’s what you should know about them.
The first webcam was used at Cambridge University in 1991 to live stream a pot of coffee, so people could see when it needed to be refilled. These days, live-streaming apps allow users to chat or broadcast to other people in real time. They range from those primarily designed for talking to friends and family, such as Skype, to apps that enable you to share moments in your life with a wider online audience, such as Instagram Stories, TikTok or Facebook Live.
But disturbing cases involving live-streaming services, such as the Bianca Devins story, and concern that adults are using some services like Twitch to groom kids, have caused a stir around their safety.
The Love Island generation
For a generation of teens brought up on shows like X Factor, Made in Chelsea and Love Island, these apps offer them the chance to star in their very own reality show. Used in the right way, they also allow kids and young people to practice communication and presentation skills and boost their confidence.
For those who use apps to be creative, such as sharing singing or dancing performances, they also provide immediate feedback, as many apps offer those watching the chance to ask questions, comment or send positive emojis in real-time to show they like what they say.
Should I be concerned?
Because live-streaming apps are instant, there’s no online moderation. No one is watching over what your kids are doing in front of others, or what those watching are doing to them. Putting yourself out there means allowing others to comment on what you do and what you are. If comments are negative or even if you feel you’re not getting enough attention, it can make you feel bad about yourself.
Live streaming with strangers online is inherently risky but your child might not think their online friend is a stranger, and so could be persuaded to do things they wouldn’t normally, such as sharing sexual images.
Adults who groom children will often meet them in moderated or public online spaces and then develop a relationship until they can persuade them to take their communication into a private, unmoderated service.
Even if you don’t know your kid is using live-streaming apps, warn them of the dangers of doing so and what they can do to stay safe. As with any online service in which they’re interacting with other people, you should also advise them not to give anything away that’ll identify their full name, where they live, hang out or go to school.
Teach them how to block and report on any service they use – and make sure they have a trusted adult who they can confide in should something go wrong, even if that person isn’t you.
What can you do?
Take an interest in the apps they use… even apps like Facebook and Instagram, which aren’t primarily live-streaming apps, now give users the ability to do just that. Give them lots of opportunities to tell you if anything is troubling them by asking questions.
Help them set up privacy settings…limiting the people who can interact with them to those they know in real life.
Drum into them the importance of not giving away any details…that could allow people to find them in real life, like location, school or address.
Make sure they know how to report any harassment…to the app or platform. If an adult makes a sexual approach, they should tell you or another trusted adult and report it to the Child Explanation and Online Protection Centre [CEOP] at https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/
This article was originally written in partnership with Parent Zone