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Awareness, Education & Training
on CyberBullying Prevention

Smartphone Apps Parents Need to Be Aware Of

We do a lot of work in the UAE to try and bring awareness to cybersafety, cyberbullying and online reputation. We have found that when we run our parent sessions we have the most questions and so this little list is to help them. Our children know about them already, so it’s up to us to try and keep up.

So we’ve put together an overview of some of the latest smartphone apps being used by teenagers and young people.

It’s worth pointing out that 90% of teens we speak to in schools here in the UAE ad the UK are actively using smartphone related apps to connect, share, create and chat. And so it’s important for parents and teachers to be aware of the popular apps, have an idea about how they work and some of the potential dangers, as well as the benefits.

The purpose of this article as well as the other content we curate and create is to support you to confidently have honest and informed conversations with your children about online safety.


With 60 million users and growing, musical.ly has become really popular with teens and young people – many as young as 7-8 years old. The idea behind the app is that it allows users to create lip-syncing videos to their favourite songs or use music from their own device. Think along the lines of the DubSmash app. Videos are typically 15 seconds long. You can add filters, time lapse, slow motion and other effects.

Users of musical.ly are known as Musers and like other social networking platforms you can like and comment on videos from other musers – as well as share videos you come across. The app also has a ‘Duet’ feature which creates a combined video featuring your video integrated with another muser’s video.

The app is still relatively new (in spite of the 60 million users!!) but there are concerns relating to inappropriate content and also offensive language used in the lip-syncing videos. Not surprisingly given the examples out there from some established artists.

If you have a teenager using musical.ly here is a couple of things that are worth discussing with them:.

Lip-syncing videos which they create can impact their online reputation. Are they 100% happy for anyone and everyone to see this? What would other people think of them if that was the only thing they saw/knew of them. In other words, what sort of impression would it leave.

As a user of the app you can set an account to Private. When you create a musical.ly your profile will be Public unless you change it to Private. Setting it to Private is useful as you must approve anyone who wants to follow you and see your videos. The app also asks users for their Instagram ID to add to their profile making it easier for someone to find other accounts they have. Ask them to consider how much they want to share with strangers.

As always a lot of smartphone apps don’t actually require location settings to be enabled in order for the app to actually work so they can turn Geo-Location off. musical.ly is no different so unless you want to use the city feature to find musers near you it might be wise to turn this off. This app is rated 12+ in the app store.

Lifestage (Snapchat Type App from Facebook)

Not happy with being the biggest social media platform in the world, it appears Facebook has created a Snapchat type app of it’s own. Although not available in the UK or Ireland or the UAE the app is aimed at high school students. And whilst Stories ( a Snapchat function) is now available in Instagram (owned by Facebook) some are looking elsewhere.

This is not Facebook’s first attempt at a Snapchat type app. Remember Slingshot? If not, you can have a little read here – Facebook Slingshot but don’t worry, Slingshot, Riff and Rooms were all failures by Facebook’s own admission and have been discontinued.

Lifestage is a video focused app that connects students with other students from their school. According to the app store description ‘you can get to know people better in your school and nearby schools, discover others who are into the same stuff you are, and connect with them’. Sounds innocent enough right?

The interesting thing about this app is that it was created by teen Facebook employee Michael Sayman (19) who says that while he and his friends were active on many different apps — Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, Lifestage was borne from the need to express individual personality as they felt that ‘none of those (apps) seemed to do a really good job at conveying someone’s personality beyond a one-line bio or a profile image’.

The Lifestage app profiles differ from normal profiles on Facebook or Twitter in that it is totally selfie and video based, showing everything from your musical taste, to your favourite activities and your best friends. Once you’ve connected with your classmates you can browse their profiles and check out their collection of photos and videos. According to a recent article on Tech Crunch Users aged over 21 are only able to view their own profiles. It is also worth pointing out that the App creators have said “We can’t confirm that people who claim to go to a certain school actually go to that school. All videos you upload to your profile are fully public content”. As with all social platforms and apps our mantra applies – STOP|THINK|POST

Pokémon Go

If you were a teenager in the 1990s yes the 90s – remember that? You might recall hits like “Nothing Compares to You” by Sinead O’Connor, ‘Genie In A Bottle’ Christina Aguilera or how about the Spice Girls ‘Wannabe’? Classics we are sure you’ll agree 🙂

If that’s the case, you might also recall the Pokémon Craze that crashed onto our Nintendo devices in the 90s. Now for those of you who’ve never experienced the delights of a Nintendo device or the world of Pokémon, here’s a quick overview:

Pokémon was released in 1998 for the Nintendo GameBoy.

The player (known as a trainer) went on journeys that involved traveling around,  catching and training Pokémon. The player battled against other Trainers’ Pokémon on a quest to become the Pokémon League Champion. Other goals and aims included catching and cataloging all of the many Pokémon within the game’s world and that’s how it worked originally…

Fast forward to 2016 – Enter POKÉMON GO!

The concept your real world and augmented reality world together – and turns it into a game.

You can catch rats, dragons, swordlike creatures, claim them for your own and use them to fight against each other. All in an augmented reality of the town, village, city you live in.  Pretty cool.

The main difference between the original Pokémon games of the 90s and Pokémon Go is device;

Pokémon Go is not just for Nintendo’s handheld consoles anymore. Instead it runs on iPhone and Android devices and uses augmented reality technology to merge your real world with the virtual world. It uses your phone’s GPS and clock to decide which Pokémon appear in the game. Players of Pokémon Go use their phones to capture virtual creatures which appear to be hovering in their immediate vicinity (your location) in the real world!. Say you’re in a park or city for example, you’ll see the landmarks represented on your screen in the game. Easy to see why children (and many adults) love this game and why it’s gone viral!

Moving forward in the game involves collecting items such as ‘Poké Balls’ which are needed to catch monsters, and can be found at ‘PokéStops’. Players use captured creatures to fight other players at ‘gyms’. PokéStops and gyms are usually located in public places such as libraries, churches and landmarks flagged by the game on a digital map – all available using the phone’s own GPS.

So what are the safety concerns?

Well let’s see;

Displaying your Location

Players using the GPS which creates the digital map to determine the location of the creatures and places to visit. This could potentially lead or ‘lure’ young players into unsafe locations. One such example being reported in The Wall Street Journal, was that in O’Fallon, Mo., four teens waited at PokéStops in order to rob arriving players, police said. Law enforcement in the US have issued many warnings reminding users to be mindful while exploring.

Distracted Driving

Among recent cases world-wide are a teen crashing his car into his school, another driving into a police car, one wandering onto a highway, two falling off a bluff, numerous being knocked down and the list goes on – all while playing the game.

In Sydney, according to an article in The Guardian, two 17-year-olds were caught driving – at low speed, but driving nonetheless, while playing the game. Each were fined $325 and incurred four demerit points. Police commented that ‘the level of distraction was worrying’. I’d say so.

According to law enforcement in Tasmania, ‘Police have seen an increase in the number of calls about suspicious vehicles and behaviour and people driving while using mobile phones, with the explanation that drivers are ‘looking for Pokémon’.

With Pokémon Go recently released in the UK and the UAE these concerns are real and worrying and something young (and all) users need to be aware of. It’s important for players to keep alert and aware of their own safety when using the game and not to put themselves or others at risk. This is so important here in Dubai where the roads are already a dangerous proposition – not paying attention because you are looking at your phone could just cost you your life!

Positives around the game are the sociability – getting outside and that Pokemon definitely encourages exploration of our environment. If you look up from your screen that is.

There have also been some links to the game helping those with autism which you can read more about here – Pokémon Go and Autism.

Facebook Live

Not really an app but a feature within Facebook for Parents to be aware of which allows any Facebook user to broadcast live from their smartphone device. The idea is that instead of posting a status update to Facebook for example a text or image, video users can broadcast right from their smartphone device.

Firstly it’s not new. Periscope, a Twitter-based Platform and also Meerkat plus popular Teen app YouNow all have been enablers of Live Streaming for some time. Facebook is the latest to enter the market and could become a dominant player given the vast number of people who still prefer Facebook as their preferred channel of choice.

When the user goes Live on Facebook others watching the stream can like and comment on the live video as it happens. Once done the creator has the option to post the video to their wall on Facebook allowing it to be replayed ad infinitum.

So what are the risks?

Teens could be putting themselves at risk by live streaming from sensitive locations such as within their bedroom, with little regard as to who is watching and what personal information is been released during the stream. Anything that’s put out, as we know, can be captured whether it be in a screen shot or recorded from a remote device.

When it comes to live broadcasting teenagers don’t always consider the risks – where the content they create may end up or how someone may use it against them.

We’ve seen many mature and public figures mess up online – and these guys are media trained!. Give your teenager the best chance by combining their knowledge of technology with your informed guidance.

Adapted from www.wayndenner.com