Adolescents using WhatsApp … should we worry?

Adolescents using WhatsApp … should we worry?

WhatsApp has become the essential application that is not missing almost on any mobile phone. And is that, as recently published by Mark Zuckerberg (the current owner of the company) on his Facebook profile, the users of this app already exceed 1,500 million active in the world, which send 60,000 million messages a day . Despite the fact that the minimum age in Spain to register for this application is 14 years, the IS4K Helpline considers that a large number of children under that age already use it. And this has its risks. In the article, the ones that involve the new features of WhatsApp are analyzed and what parents can do to reduce them .

Why do children use WhatsApp?

Many parents are the ones who favor their children using WhatsApp , because they think about the positive thing that can bring them: fast communication, ease of use, without cost, possibility of knowing where their little one is at that precise moment, autonomy that provides the child with a risk situation, etc.

Add to this that if the child is using WhatsApp, it is very likely that he has his own device to access it. And the preference for having an exclusive mobile phone is far superior to other devices , even more so as the child’s age increases, which implies that, on the one hand, the possibilities of sharing the terminal decrease and, on the other hand, , that children are exposed to the risks involved in mobile Internet connectivity (and that in principle they are limited more with the use of tablets and laptops).

The minimum age established by the providers of these digital services to use these applications (that is, the age at which minors can transfer their information to these large companies) is 16 years. However, it is allowed to lower that age and that each State establishes its own, which is why in Spain it is currently set at 14 years. But it is foreseeable that this threshold will decrease until 13 years after the entry into force of the new regulations on data protection. Below this age (14 years), the consent of parents or guardians must be available, although today no authorization is required to demonstrate this consent, nor is it verified if the child is actually the same age as the child. says have

WhatsApp is one more among the options that exist for instant messaging, although one of the reasons for success among the youngest is its ability to offer functionalities very oriented to the favorite activities of children and teenagers online : the update of states , filters for edit photos, possibility to send up to 30 images at once creating an album, new emojis (images or pictograms that are used to express an idea, emotion or feeling), changes in the interface that make it visually more attractive, etc.

New features that may pose a risk

There are numerous changes that WhatsApp has made in its application in recent years, but recently it has incorporated two new functions to which special attention should be paid:

1. “Delete messages for everyone”. This function makes it possible to make disappear a message of WhatsApp sent, as much of the own device as of the terminals of the addressees, in a term of 68 minutes (in front of the 7 minutes that left in a principle). It can be applied in conversations between two people, as well as in group conversations. Of course, when the message to be deleted has already been cited by another user, it can no longer be deleted, even if it is within the 68 minute range.

  • This new feature is very useful when sending messages by mistake or to the wrong people.
  • However, misuse can lead to cyberbullying , since someone can send a threatening message to another person, wait for him to read it, and then delete it. Once erased, the content can not be read , although there will be a trace that there was a written message, which was later deleted.

2. Geolocation. Through this option, any user can voluntarily share the location of the place where they are, either with a single recipient or with a group. Recently, WhatsApp enabled functionality to share the location constantly or online in real time. That is, if the child shares the location with another person, the recipient can see in real time on the map where the child is and the trajectory that follows. To use it, it is necessary to enable the GPS or geolocation system of the device, as shown in the following image.

This functionality can be very useful because:

  • Facilitates the stay of minors with their circle.
  • In case of risk, the location can be shared to request help.
  • It can be used as a supervisory measure on children.

It can become an inconvenience because:

  • If a minor shares his location with strangers, it may involve a risk to his privacy and even a physical risk in a hypothetical encounter.
  • It can encourage the abuse of control by third parties depriving him of freedom.
  • When the position is revealed, it is also being informed of the places where you are not (for example, if the children share photos and videos that show that the family is on vacation, they can give clues to the commission of incidents of home theft ).

In any case, a bad use of instant messaging technology can lead to other types of risks or situations, from risks due to infection of viruses or malware on this platform (for example, when clicking on links or attachments without a prior verification), risks related to the disproportionate use of technologies , as well as those that have to do with the content they consume ( hoaxes and fraud circulating on WhatsApp) and contacts established by minors on the Internet and that can have a harmful effect (such as sexting , cyberbullying or school cyberbullying, grooming or sextorsión).


What can we do to reduce the risks?

It is important to respect the terms and conditions that WhatsApp establishes , as well as to develop a digital education in each of the child’s stages, based on the closeness and open dialogue about the use that children make on the Internet and how it can be facilitated that access the technologies at the right time and that this use is balanced and contributes to their well-being.

Through parental mediation , children are taught their responsibility in the use of devices and services such as WhatsApp and they are helped to learn to identify and react to the possible risks associated with instant messaging. For example, through tools that allow managing the different activities of the child’s daily life , which include the use of instant messaging but without forgetting leisure, relationships with friends or school or family tasks.

To avoid infection of the device with the contents shared through WhatsApp, it is important to verify the veracity of these messages, for which a simple search in one of the main search engines is sufficient in many cases. In this way, many viral chains, hoaxes and scams can be detected avoiding both falling into them and spreading them.

Likewise, it is advisable to configure the privacy options appropriately to avoid sharing certain information about the minor. This is the case of the geolocation function , it is advisable to keep it off and make use of it only at specific moments with people of maximum confidence, such as parents.

When it comes to preventing conflicts in online relationships , netiquette guidelines will help promote good online values, such as caring for language or respecting the opinions of others. Sometimes, replacing WhatsApp conversations with phone calls can be a success: conversation times are reduced and, in turn, you get more closeness and certainty about who are the interlocutors and a real tone in the messages (which many times they misunderstand).

On the other hand, related to the self – destruction functionalities of the messages , children can be helped from the moment in which it is detected that the child receives annoying or harassing messages, avoiding possible scenarios of cyberbullying or other risk situations in the interaction with other users or groups. For this, the following will be done:

  • Because it is important to have these messages, as evidence of what is happening, as soon as this type of content is received it is advisable to change the status of the device to “airplane mode” or disconnect the data and the Wi-Fi connection. In this way, the terminal will not be able to receive updates in the event that its aggressor decides to delete the message. This measure will also give more time to take screenshots and even to present the device with the original conversations where necessary.
  • It is also convenient to rely on applications that allow you to recover those deleted messages . For this, the child must have before the app installed on their device. In the case of WhatsRemoved , it works by intercepting the notification system, saving all WhatsApp messages that are notified to the user, so that, if the harasser erases the sent message, the original will continue to appear in the registry and can be used as proof. To work properly, you must have the group from which threats are received or the aggressor user without silencingin WhatsApp.

Do you continue with doubts? If you need more information on how to adequately supervise your child, reinforce protection or manage a conflictive situation with the use of WhatsApp, consult the free and confidential Internet

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