Small children – small worries, big children – big worries. This saying has lost its validity to some extent. In the meantime, even the little ones want to enjoy all the freedoms of the adult world. So even messengers like WhatsApp are an invention that everyone has to have.
Concerned parents ask themselves the legitimate question at the latest at the first dubious contact request on their child’s cell phone: At what point should children be allowed to use WhatsApp? To be able to answer this question, we would like to explain the messenger WhatsApp with all its advantages and disadvantages in more detail.
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This Is WhatsApp
Some among us successfully refuse to use it, others are avid users and regulars: WhatsApp is one of the most popular applications for sending short messages via cell phone.
A variety of smileys, integrated voice recording, customizable backgrounds, and similar extras make the messenger so interesting for kids and teenagers. That’s why it has long been preferred over competitors like Facebook.
Costs And Benefits
The biggest advantage of the small app is undoubtedly the free sending of text messages. Unlike the now obsolete SMS, there is no charge for the WhatsApp message. However, this only works if you have access to the Internet (Wifi or mobile Internet) and sufficient data credit is available.
To exchange short messages, the user only has to download the application and create an account. WhatsApp can be used completely free of charge for the first year. After that, there are still no costs for the messages themselves. However, one has to pay around 90 cents per year to use the program. A price that is quite justified in view of WhatsApp’s constant development.
However, the user has to pay elsewhere. Namely, where qualities like encryption and data security are in demand. WhatsApp is undoubtedly not a completely secure option for exchanging sensitive data. Thus, kids should definitely be educated about some basic rules of conduct in connection with the messenger before using WhatsApp. You can read about these very rules of conduct below.
With WhatsApp, you can not only exchange messages in (group) chat. If the users in question are online at the same time, it is even possible to make phone calls. However, kids who don’t have a data flat rate should rather do without it. Making calls via WhatsApp uses up a lot of data, so the data volume included in the rate plan can be used up very quickly.
WhatsApp And Youth Protection
Of course, WhatsApp has also defined the basic “rules of the game” in its terms and conditions. They state that the program may only be used from the age of 16.
However, WhatsApp does not carry out any age checks. It is therefore not surprising that the program is so popular with kids from the age of 10.
In the end, parents decide whether the child is ready to use the messenger or not. Because it’s difficult to ban the use of Messenger in the long run (most kids find ways to trick their parents in this regard), a middle ground is often the better choice. Make precise agreements with your child without banning him from the program in advance and familiarize yourself with how the messenger works.
Dangers Vs. Personal Responsibility
Today, every child must learn to take responsibility when using the Internet. WhatsApp not only provides a reason for numerous disputes between parents and children here but rather an opportunity to grow into a critical consumer.
Depending on the age of the child, it is important to weigh the dangers of WhatsApp against the child’s ability to take responsibility and to set appropriate restrictions. No child wants to be bullied or harassed. Most kids, therefore, understand that they need to be mindful when using the Internet once they have seen through the most common sources of danger. Therefore, don’t react to the topic of WhatsApp with total defensiveness, but try to have an open conversation about it. In doing so, educate them about the following areas.
The Right To One’s Own Image And WhatsApp
Images and texts are subject to copyright. This means that it is actually forbidden to use the works of another person for yourself without their consent. It becomes even more difficult if you use these works for commercial purposes.
What applies to everyone seems to have no relevance for WhatsApp. According to the company’s terms and conditions, the user assigns any rights to the content sent to WhatsApp. Thus, the company could use the private pictures of its users for its own purposes at any time.
This fact is another reason to be careful with services like WhatsApp. The seemingly inexpensive messengers have a hidden price, which you should definitely be aware of when using them: Storage of personal data and assignment of the rights to use words and images.
Delete Account? Not So Easy!
If you are tired of potential data theft by WhatsApp, you can delete your account. Victims of bullying attacks on the net also have the option of “opting out” of WhatsApp. However, deleting the account is not as easy as it seems. Removing the app from the smartphone is considered a cancellation of the service. However, if you want to be completely sure, you should take a few additional steps beforehand. After all, the account is only completely deactivated when you delete the link to the phone number.
The best way to do this is to follow the steps below:
- Press the menu button → Select settings.
- Tap on the “Account” entry.
- Here you can finally delete your own account – by clicking on “Delete my account”.
- To complete the deactivation, it is necessary to enter your own phone number for confirmation. Then tap the red “Delete my account” button and remove the app from the smartphone.
Encryption And Data Security
Messengers like WhatsApp work on a different principle than we are used to when sending SMS. To be more precise, all data (images, messages, and voice recordings) are temporarily stored on a large server. From there, they are then sent to the respective recipients.
To make the data transfer as secure as possible, such data should definitely be encrypted. Although WhatsApp switched its system to encryption several years ago, there is still no absolute security. This is because the encryption system currently used by WhatsApp is insufficient and does not guarantee that only the recipient can read the message.
This also means that WhatsApp itself has access to the users’ data (which is cached on the server). This should give every WhatsApp user pause for thought.
Moreover, the installation of the application requires some permissions that would not actually be necessary for the program to function properly. For example, WhatsApp requires access to the personal phone book, the location, the device’s memory (thus also SMS and Co.), and the user’s identity.
The fact that there is now a large market for such data is no longer a secret. Therefore, if uninstalling WhatsApp is not an option, it is essential to keep in mind that the data on the cell phone is by no means a private matter.
Safety Tips For Parents And Kids
If you have decided to allow your child to use WhatsApp, it is best to tie this permission to some agreements. Explain to your child that as a mature as well as responsible Internet user, he or she should absolutely abide by these points – just as an adult would. Under these conditions, the use of WhatsApp by children is acceptable for many parents. If compliance with these “rules of the game” no longer works after a while, there is still the option (as already described above) to delete the account permanently.
In the following, we would like to provide you and your child with a number of recommendations that can make texting with WhatsApp safer.
Agree On Rules
If you deal a little with the topic of WhatsApp and security, it is quite easy to optimize the program so that one or the other source of danger can be eliminated. Parents who are confronted with this topic should definitely be well informed about the stumbling blocks and dangers of the program. This is the only way to agree on sensible rules of conduct when dealing with WhatsApp. They serve as the basis for your consent to use the messenger and should be adhered to by the child at all costs.
Keep Number Secret
It goes without saying that as a cell phone owner, you should not give your number to just anyone passing by on the street. In the age of WhatsApp, the importance of this basic rule has increased even more. After all, if you know your child’s number, you can send them unsolicited messages, pictures, and more. Although the contact can be blocked effortlessly, further attempts at harassment via another phone number are still not impossible.
Therefore, for your child, as well as for adults: Do not give your phone number to people you don’t know! Even your friends must not give out your number without asking you. Only write on WhatsApp with people you know from “real” life.
If the child chats with WhatsApp via a public wifi spot, for example in a café, there are additional risks. Because with it, especially in highly frequented places, it can become a victim of spy attacks by hackers. Sensitive data and messages should not be exchanged via WhatsApp anyway. Especially not if you have logged into a public Wi-Fi network. Here it is better to stick to your own mobile Internet, which is somewhat more secure in this respect or to use a password-protected Wifi spot.
Profile Picture, Status And Timestamp
With Facebook, Twitter, and also WhatsApp, you should think carefully about which profile picture you use. Children, in particular, prefer not to display vacation photos in bikinis or similar pictures in their profiles. Ideally, you should use a cartoon picture, your own drawing, or another picture that does not reveal your own identity.
This is because your own picture appears in the contact bar for everyone to see. By the way, it is not mandatory to set a profile picture. If you choose not to, a placeholder will appear instead.
With all applications that access the Internet, security gaps can occur from time to time. Therefore, it is important to regularly check whether a new version of WhatsApp is available. This is because the developers of the program keep revising it – especially when bugs and security vulnerabilities occur.
Unfortunately, not only honest people are on the Internet. If the child is chatted by strangers, it is best to block these contacts immediately anyway.
But even if strange demands come from supposedly known contacts, the child must know how to react. In the following cases, the contact should be blocked or deleted. In serious cases, charges may be filed.
- Giving out sensitive data such as passwords.
- Request to visit an unknown website.
- Disclosure of personal data (e.g. address).
- Demand to send pictures of yourself.
- Prompts for sexting.
Know How To Do It
Anyone who uses WhatsApp should know how to block a user. You should also know what steps to take to delete a contact or your own account. Determine if your child knows how to use WhatsApp’s built-in features to avoid harassment and what to do in case of bullying.
Don’t Overuse Mobile Phone Plans
Not every teenager has a data flat rate. The cheaper cell phone tariffs only cover a fairly small data package. Data volume used beyond that can be quite expensive. Inform yourself and your child about the packages included in the tariff and, if necessary, use adjustable restrictions in the smartphone settings. Alternatively, install various apps to limit data usage.
Go Through Privacy Settings
Go through the privacy settings together. In some places, WhatsApp can be optimized quite easily to improve data security. For example, you can disable the timestamp in the settings.
During a stay abroad, data roaming should be deactivated on the cell phone to avoid high phone bills. This is especially true for WhatsApp users who use the Internet constantly without always being aware of it. Roaming services can be changed directly in the smartphone settings.
Sexting – What Is It?
This term comes up again and again when it comes to sending messages on the Internet. What is meant is the exchange of intimate details or pictures to turn each other on. Sexting is therefore comparable to cybersex. For teenagers, sexting has a certain appeal. Of course, every child at this age should be allowed to maintain a certain level of privacy. However, sexting via WhatsApp is a dangerous thing with both net acquaintances and “real” contacts from everyday life. As already mentioned, WhatsApp gets the rights to the pictures and texts of its users. What happens to them, no one knows. Therefore, it is in the interest of the children themselves to refrain from sexting. Phone calls are a much safer and harmless alternative here.
Address this issue openly and explain to your child why you do not tolerate sexting. Make sure he or she understands that this is about their own privacy and safety. Both teenagers and adults know the appeal of erotic short messages. However, WhatsApp is not the best tool of choice here in any case and should not be used for this purpose under any circumstances.
Delete Contacts? This Is How It Works!
Unfortunately, there is no option on WhatsApp to report unwanted behavior such as bullying, spam or the like. Instead, however, you can delete the contacts in question in order to no longer receive messages from this person.
How To Block A Contact
Most of the time, it is enough to block a contact instead of deleting it completely. This is especially useful if you suddenly find yourself being chatted with by strangers who have obtained your phone number by unknown means. If you are chatted with by a stranger, the “Block” option will appear. This is the easiest and fastest way to permanently cancel the contact.
Another way to block someone is via the WhatsApp menu. Here’s how:
- Pressing the menu button on the cell phone.
- Then select the “Settings” entry.
- Tap on “Account” and then on “Privacy”.
- At the very bottom, an entry with “Blocked contacts” will appear. Tap this menu item.
- In the contact menu, select the contact you want to block.
In doing so, it can happen that you block someone unintentionally. This is not a problem either. The following steps are sufficient to unblock someone.
- Open the “Blocked contacts” menu as described above.
- Tap the desired blocked contact for a few seconds. A message should appear that the contact in question is now unblocked.
The Search For Alternatives
According to Stiftung Warentest, WhatsApp is not a secure application because it does not use end-to-end encryption. This means that the encryption is still patchy and, by the way, applies to both the iOS and Android versions. Furthermore, WhatsApp’s T& Cs states that data can be transferred to third parties, and the T& Cs themselves can be changed at any time. This is not ideal for a messenger that can also be used to exchange sensitive data. Furthermore, Stiftung Warentest describes a possible difficulty resulting from the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook. It could be that the users’ data will now be transferred to Facebook. Due to these and other negative points, Stiftung Warentest rates the app as very critical in terms of data protection.
The messenger Threema scores much better on these points. Unlike WhatsApp, it works on the basis of end-to-end encryption and can also be used if the user does not grant permission to read out the address book.
Three shows users how reliably the chat partner’s identity can be confirmed. This is a very practical feature, especially for kids, and it makes chatting on the Internet a bit safer. Because this makes it harder for potential swindlers to curry favor with their victims. At a price of €1.60 for Android, this app is quite affordable, making it a viable alternative to WhatsApp.
Photo: Twin design / bigstockphoto.com