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The rise of apps such as WhatsApp, Touch, and Blackberry Messenger (BBM) have led to the first recorded decline in SMS numbers, and my experience in schools suggests that mobile chat is now the most popular form of communication between teenagers.
If you’ve ever found yourself glancing up from your phone and nodding a hesitant ‘yes’ to someone after missing everything they’ve just said, then you already know how addictive mobile chat apps can be. In an increasingly busy world the opportunity to organise a night out, share a photo of the sandwich you’ve just made, and correct someone on their grammar, all at the same time, seems like a godsend.
The attraction of such services is the ability to communicate with multiple users at the same; including the ability to share pictures, video, and audio recordings. The advantage these apps have over more open networks like Facebook, however, is that they offer far more in the way of anonymity and privacy.
WhatsApp users have to register their mobile number, but services such as Touch and Kik only require users to set up a username. While this protects children from sharing personal information, anonymity can lead to cases of cyberbullying going undetected, or unpunished.
If your teenagers are using mobile chat apps, it’s worth reminding them that everything they say, and every picture they upload, could potentially end up in the public domain. Just make sure they’re not looking at their phone and nodding politely when you have that conversation.