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What Is Live Streaming? What Parents Need to Know

When it comes to live streaming video, I don’t even like to keep my laptop’s camera on while Skyping with colleagues. But give me a backstage pass to a Lady Gaga studio session. Or my daughter a front row seat to a Valentino runway show. Or my son real-time access to PewDiePie charging through the latest video game. Then we are all in!

Today’s popular live streaming apps—including Facebook Live, Periscope, Twitch, and YouNow—are the next big thing in our always-on digital culture. Using these apps, anyone with an Internet connection and a computer or smartphone can broadcast their own life—or watch someone else’s—instantly and for free.

It’s exciting to be on the receiving end, witnessing live events unfold in real time, from politicians’ victory speeches to history-making sporting events. And for many, it’s exciting to be behind the screen, filming our lives and sharing the video with our chosen audience.

But for teenagers, live streaming online can have a real downside. Unchecked, they offer limitless opportunity to live-stream their lives, and their friends’ and acquaintances’ lives. At a party? Hey, let’s broadcast it. In the locker room? Why not. With these apps, perhaps more than ever, we are relying on our teenagers to make sound and responsible judgments. And of course some teenagers aren’t particularly adept at that.

“While I can imagine positive uses for live streaming apps … I worry that they are one more way that teens are sending out messages with even less time for reflection about the repercussions,” says Michelle Cove, founder and executive director of MEDIAGIRLS, a non-profit that teaches middle-school girls to critique how girls and women are portrayed in mainstream media.

“Parents need to be having discussions with their kids regularly about these kinds of apps,” she recommends. “I realize it can be overwhelming, but this is not a place to hope for the best.”

Tips for Using Live Streaming Websites And Apps

So, what can parents do to help teens use live streaming apps responsibly? Here are a few important tips:

  • Learn which apps for live streaming your kids are downloading. If you are unfamiliar with it, download the app and use it yourself.
  • Tell your kids they can always come to you if they have questions or concerns about their online activity or about other online users.
  • Make sure the geo-location is turned off. Instruct your teen to be aware of surroundings. Never broadcast potential location markers, such as school or home address, in the background.
  • Tell your teens not to share their real names, age, phone number, or address on any app, including apps for live streaming.
  • Talk to them about thinking before they post. Will the video feed upset anyone?  Have potential repercussions?
  • Ask them to never live-stream another person without their consent.
  • Explain that they should not agree to meet people through the app.
  • Review specifics on how the app works and potential risks. In some of the apps, for example, anyone online can watch their live videos, take screenshots, and bully them with the recordings.
  • Randomly monitor your teenager’s activity.

Parents need to stay vigilant. But, take comfort. While live-streaming video may seem new and potentially dangerous, for our digital-native teenagers, it is just another form of social networking. And, with your guidance, they can learn to use it safely and appropriately.

Popular Live Streaming Apps

Facebook Live

Facebook’s recently launched live-streaming feature is integrated into its social network and allows replays to live on permanently. Facebook is a bit more conservative than other live-streaming services, only sending notifications to your close friends or for celebrities and pages, people who have interacted with them recently.


Owned by Twitter, Periscope allows you to “explore the world through someone else’s eyes.” Using it is simple. You open the app, click broadcast, title your subject, start recording, and then your Twitter followers can tune right into your video feed. With Periscope, viewers can interact with the broadcaster in real-time. Replays can only be watched for 24 hours.


Owned by Amazon, Twitch is a video gamer’s haven. In a typical month, more than 100 million community members gather to watch and talk about video games and view e-sports competitions with more than 1.7 million live broadcasters.


Seventy-four percent of YouNow’s users are under 24. The service was designed to create personalities and foster fandoms around them. It has been successful in helping new music acts connect with fans. On its site, YouNow says it records 35,000 hours a day of live video and has 100 million user logins a month.

Audrey Mann Cronin is a digital culture entrepreneur, a communications consultant, founder of community Our Digital Daughters. She is the creator of mobile app LikeSo: Your Personal Speech Coach.  LikeSo offers a fun and effective way to practice speaking confidently, articulately, and without all of those “likes,” and “sos.”  Click here to download it from the App Store. Visit her on Facebook @LikeSoApp and @OurDigitalDaughters and follow her on Twitter @LikeSoApp and @DigiDaughters.

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