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The Most Popular Apps for Teenagers: What’s Hot, What’s Not

With so many phone and computer apps on the market, and new ones popping up every day, it can be difficult to keep track of which apps our kids are using. Here are the most popular apps for teens right now, along with what you need to know about each app.

What apps are your teens really using?

Anonymous Messaging Apps

What parents worry about: Apps that allow anonymous texting can lead to poor choices and cyberbullying.

Lipsi (17 and up) 

What parents need to know:

  • The makers of Lipsi encourages users to put their Lipsi link on their Instagram account so they can receive anonymous feedback about their posts.
  • Users can easily erase chat history, which means they can be tempted to engage in risky behaviors.

Tellonym (13 and up, though anyone under 15 should get parental permission)

What parents need to know:

  • This anonymous texting app currently has over 10 million users.
  • Tellonym claims to be monitoring for inappropriate content and has a section on their site about managing safety concerns.
  • Users can block certain words, for instance, or block messages from people who are not registered users of the app.
  • In England, several schools have warned parents about bullying connected with the app.

Live Video Chatting Apps

What parents worry about: Live video apps can raise concerns about privacy and the potential for inappropriate content and interaction with predators.

Houseparty (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • This group video chat service is reportedly the fourth most downloaded app and 60 percent of its users are under 24.
  • According to Bark, a parental control phone tracker app, Houseparty doesn’t monitor chats, which raises the risk of kids being exposed to inappropriate content.
  • Users can only add people they already know through Facebook or their contact list.
  • There is an option to add people nearby, but the location service can be turned off.
  • Privacy settings can also be used, and chats can be locked to reduce the risk of strangers joining a chat.

(Author note: I had never heard of Houseparty until this year, but it has become ubiquitous in my house. My extremely social child uses it to chat with a group of friends. Throughout the day, she receives notifications when a new friend is “in the house.”)

Holla (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • Users engage in live video chats with strangers.
  • Several reviews mention users exposing themselves or engaging in sexual activities during chats.

Messaging apps

What parents worry about: Any messaging app can lead to inappropriate conversations and raises the risk of exposure to predatory and inappropriate behaviors.

Kik (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • Kik is reportedly used by one-third of American teens 13-17.
  • Kik has been in the news because of cases involving online predators.
  • The company that makes Kik offers a safety guide for parents.

WhatsApp (13 and over)

What parents need to know:

  • WhatsApp was ranked 13th on Apple’s list of the most popular apps of 2018.
  • The app allows users to send unlimited messages and photos without worrying about data limits.
  • Users can share their locations and contacts while messaging, but that feature can be turned off.

Telegram (16 and up) 

What parents need to know:

  • Telegram allows users to send texts, images, and videos.
  • Secret messages are encouraged, and users can access X-rated stickers and plug-ins.

Entertainment apps

What parents worry about: Entertainment apps can offer access to inappropriate content and potential interactions with strangers.

Zepeto (16 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • This fast-growing app allows users to create animated versions of themselves and then interact with other users in a chatroom.
  • Zepeto allows users to interact with strangers through an anonymous follow function and direct messaging.
  • The app has a lot of ads and users might feel pressured to make purchases to get more followers and likes.

BitLife (17 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • BitLife is a text-based, life simulator app.
  • Users are asked to make adult choices, like whether to have a one-night stand or use drugs.
  • Common Sense Media makes this recommendation: “While older teens and adults who understand the tongue-in-cheek approach and mature content will likely get a kick out of this simulator, BitLife – Life Simulator is definitely not appropriate for kids and younger teens.”

Discord (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • Discord is a voice and text chatting tool for gamers that has over 100 million users.
  • Users can send direct messages to each other, so there is the potential for interactions with strangers.
  • Some users discuss games for older teens and adults, so risks of accessing inappropriate content are high.

TikTok (12 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • TikTok is the new Musical.ly. The app has over 80 million users and was ranked as 16th on Apple’s list of the most popular apps of 2018.
  • Accounts are public by default. If the account isn’t set to private, anyone can contact the user directly.
  • TikTok has been in the news because of tween and teen users receiving inappropriate messages from other users.
  • There is also some explicit content, but a restricted mode helps filter out anything inappropriate.

YouTube (17 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • A Pew Research Center Study from last year showed that YouTube is the most popular internet platform, with 85 percent of teens 13-17 using it.
  • The company recently reiterated their policies prohibiting harmful and dangerous content and said they would ban all challenges and pranks that can cause emotional distress and lead to physical harm.
  • Past efforts to ban certain kinds of content have been unsuccessful and inappropriate content has even slipped through YouTube Kids.

Photo-Sharing Apps

What parents worry about: There is a high risk of encountering inappropriate content, including pornography, on photo-sharing apps.

Snapchat (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • The Pew study found that 69 percent of teens 13-17 use Snapchat and it ranks first in terms of how often it is used
  • The app has been in the news often for instances of predator encounters and users self-harming as a result of content.
  • One of the most alarming aspects of the app is its “Discover” feature, which enables individuals and companies to create their own channels. S
  • Some of the channels are age-gated, meaning users must at least say they’re 18 to access the sometimes-explicit content, but not all channels are.

Instagram (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • This photo- and video-sharing platform is the second most popular app for teens 13-17.
  • A major concern with Instagram is access to pornographic content. According to Chris McKenna at protectyoungeyes.com, porn is too easy to find on Instagram. Although the app creators restrict content, pornographers have figured out how to game the system.
  • Teens often set up spam accounts where they post photos they don’t want their regular followers (such as parents) to see.

Pinterest (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • About 25 percent of teen girls use pinning sites like Pinterest to share inspiration.
  • There have been complaints that the site has few filters, which means it’s easy for users to access inappropriate content.

VSCO (13 and up)

What parents need to know:

  • VSCO describes itself as a creative channel with a creator-first philosophy.
  • Like Instagram, VSCO users can post and see other users’ photographs and videos and communicate with those who follow them via messaging. Unlike Instagram, users cannot like one another’s posts.
  • VSCO says it doesn’t allow nudity or hate-driven posts, but Common Sense Media found suggestive and even explicit material and references to alcohol and drugs.
  • Location data is shared unless turned off in privacy settings.

(Author note: The term “VSCO girl” has floated around my house quite a bit recently. I’m told—and research confirms—the term refers to girls who like certain trendy brands. A look at my own daughter’s account shows lots of pictures of teen girls using filters and well-rehearsed poses to try to look as model-like as possible.)

Other Apps Parents Should Know About

Bark, a company that creates a tool for parents to monitor kids online, has found that teens are using unexpected technologies to evade parental controls.

What parents should know teens are using:

  • Google Docs to write messages without any record.
  • AirDrop to send notes and photos.
  • Real Estate apps to throw parties in empty homes on the market

Article has been updated as of August 2019

Catherine Brown

Catherine Brown writes about parenting, education, the arts, aging, and health and wellness. She recently published Hope for Recovery: Stories of Healing from Eating Disorders and is collecting essays for a book on body image. You can find her at catherinebrownwriter.com and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/writercatherinebrown  and Twitter https://twitter.com/catbrown_writer.