Most people, parents and teens alike, are aware of sexting and its potential harms by now . But for those who are not, sexting is where people exchange suggestive and/or sexually charged messages or photos via text message. Many times the people exchanging messages are two consenting adults who are already in a relationship, but even this can carry at least a small level of risk. One of the main risks of sexting is that the explicit messages can be captured in screenshots or otherwise posted to public forums, effectively damaging someone’s reputation. Other times, the messages can be used to blackmail someone or harass them. But when it comes to teens, the issue can be much more severe. And now with new platforms like Kik, things have never been riskier. Here is why Kik sexting can be alarming.
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Understanding Kik Messenger
Sexting among teens is generally dangerous because it often leads to conversations and ideas– and sometimes actions– that they are neither mentally nor physically prepared for. Sexting on Kik especially encourages this, and it is of even greater cause for concern because it very often results in people exchanging messages with complete strangers.
Just what is Kik? It is actually a fairly new platform of communication that was officially launched in 2010 but has taken off rather quickly from 2012 to 2014, especially among teens and young adults. Also known as Kik Messenger, it is essentially a text messaging system for smartphones (though a username is required) that comes with a built-in browser. This is intended to make sharing information and files easier. While it sounds innocent enough– and when used for regular conversations among friends and family members, it is– Kik has also gained quite the reputation for being a sexting platform, primarily among strangers looking for someone to hook up with.
How to Get Kik
It’s actually incredibly easy to get Kik. Anyone can do it if they have a Smartphone. All they need to do is visit the Kik Messenger website from their phone, download the program and set up a username. Like many other forms of social media, the user can then start contacting other usernames and adding friends to communicate with. It’s that simple. Kik Messenger now has approximately 240 million users.
Why Kids and Teens Love Kik
Many young people actually do use Kik for its original purpose– to communicate better with friends. Kik is an attractive form of technology because not only can people send messages, but they can also easily exchange photos and videos (without all of the extra steps involved when doing so via regular texting), and they can even send “Kik cards” for people’s birthdays and special events. So, with the rise of Smartphone use among children and teens, it’s really not much of a secret why Kik has become so popular.
Blackberry Ban on Kik
One of the reasons many people have heard of Kik Messenger is not necessarily because of its growing popularity, but because RIM (Research In Motion, the company behind Blackberry) banned it from its app store a few years ago. At the time, many believed the ban was a result of Kik being seen as a competitive threat to Blackberry Messenger. However, RIM issued a statement that, although a bit vague, suggested that there were growing problems with user safety and security on Kik that they did not want their own users subject to. As time has gone on, this appears to be the case. And as we will discuss here, there are indeed a variety of reasons to be wary of Kik Messenger, especially if you are a parent whose child is currently using it.
Kik Sexting Conversations: How Do They Begin?
As we have established, Kik Messenger has grown quite the reputation as a platform for sexting. But just how do these sexting conversations start in the first place? The truth is rather sketchy. For instance, the conversations that lead to sexting will often start on other platforms of the Internet– chat rooms, Craigslist ads, group chats, Yahoo! Answers posts, etc., where someone will make it known that they want to connect on Kik or simply “Kik” with someone. Common “advertisements” include seemingly nonchalant posts like “girls that wanna Kik?” or “anyone down to Kik?” Yes, Kik has almost become a verb that basically means “sexting.”
There are now even entire websites devoted to giving out the Kik usernames of people— mostly young women– who will supposedly engage in sexting with anyone. One only needs to Google something along the lines of “how to find female kik users” or “girls looking to kik” to discover the shocking amount of websites and forums devoted to this very thing. Many of these are actually focused entirely on teen sexters, advertising teen usernames for supposed use by other teens.
People Being Blackmailed on Kik
Along with Kik’s growing popularity, another trend that has also been steadily growing has been people– mostly young women– getting blackmailed via Kik. One recent example is that of a 12 year old who was blackmailed into sending nude photos of herself via Kik. These photos were then redistributed against her will to others, and her case is just one of many similar scenarios.
The fact is, many of the young ladies on Kik, at least those whose usernames are advertised for sexting purposes, have been blackmailed or otherwise scammed into sending explicit or embarrassing photos of themselves, or having their username distributed on Kik sexting websites. Those looking for girls on Kik to sext with should reconsider their actions, since they may be directly contributing to the problem with or without knowing it.
Kik and Pedophiles
Because Kik is so popular with teens and young people in general, it has also become quite the haven for pedophiles looking to connect with minors. As stated above, many young people have already been blackmailed via Kik sexting, and the real life situations just keep getting scarier. While these stories can be hard to read and hear about, it is important for parents and teens to be aware of the real dangers of this form of social media and communication.
For example, in early 2014 a man in Kern County, California, was arrested for extorting at least eight minors into sending him nude photos of themselves via Kik. In one of the cases, the man was discovered to have threatened a preteen girl with exposing inappropriate photos all over the Internet of one of her close friends if she did not comply with his demands and send him similar photos of herself. The man was fortunately reported to the police and eventually arrested, but sadly many of these cases do not have such happy endings. Regardless, the victims’ lives are forever scarred, and this is especially true the younger they are.
Strangers and Sexting
Going along with the above, another one of the main dangers of Kik sexting is that users often don’t have a real idea of who they are actually talking with and sharing photos with. The fact is, many people who want to use Kik for sexting don’t actually want to contact people they know personally (in real life) because of the potential embarrassment that can result. So, they go online looking for Kik usernames of people that are up for sexting anonymously. Unfortunately, a teen just going on Kik looking for other teens could end up talking to and sharing inappropriate photos and information with a grown adult, without even being aware that anything is wrong. Digital Strategist Simon Salt even wrote a column in 2012 titled Kick Your Kids Off Kik for this very reason.
Sadly, many of the profiles being distributed for sexting purposes on Kik are not real (the person actually communicating is not the person advertised), or they are real but the original user did not intend for their username and account to be used for that purpose. Not only does this lead to embarrassment for the original user when a stranger starts contacting them for sexting, but it can also lead to harassment and a damaged reputation at school or at work. And when it comes to someone contacting one of the “fake” usernames, they often find themselves being scammed or the victim of some other kind of extortion scheme. So, Kik Messenger users looking to use the platform for sexting need to be exceptionally careful, especially when it comes to doing so with strangers.
There’s No Such Thing As “Anonymous” on the Internet
What many young people today, and many parents, still fail to realize is that there is really no such thing as remaining “anonymous” on the Internet. Since Kik is directly connected to an Internet browser, it is even easier for potential scammers and blackmailers to track down the origins of a username and find the real person attached to it. So even if a fake name is used and that person does not divulge their whereabouts or real identity to a person they are texting with, there is still the possibility for someone skilled enough to track them down and start harassing them.
What Parents Can Do
The best thing parents can do is to talk directly with their children about the dangers of sexting, especially Kik sexting. While having these conversations can certainly be awkward, the fact is that teens are more likely to avoid potentially dangerous behavior when they believe their parents are more informed about it. Meanwhile, teens of parents who express little interest in their lives or demonstrate little knowledge of modern forms of communication are more likely to use that to their advantage and engage in more risky behaviors. Parents of younger children should also reconsider their child’s ownership of a smartphone altogether, since it allows unbridled access to the Internet and all kinds of communication platforms.
Extra Precautions Every Parent and Teen Should Know and Take
It’s one thing to talk about the dangers of platforms like Kik, but it’s another to actually take some extra precautions. In fact, this can be far more effective in protecting minors against Kik predators and scammers. Unfortunately, there are no parental controls or a series of privacy settings on Kik. This is in fact one of the ways it deviates the most from other forms of social media. That said, parents CAN make sure that their child has their privacy settings in use on other platforms, particularly those that are often directly connected to Kik. Since so many Kik users share photos, many have their Instagram profiles connected, or they use the same username for each. Instagram does have a series of privacy settings, and therefore they should be set up so photos are private and can only be viewed among friends. Since Kik is unregulated, this is the very least that should be done.
In addition to this, parents may also want to consider maintaining full access to their child’s phone and computer (and other communication technology). Children and teens should be aware that their parent has the right to check their phone and messages at any moment, particularly if they suspect that dangerous or inappropriate behavior is taking place. If there are passwords in place on the child’s phone, the parent should be the one to help set it up (this is most effective if the parent is the one who bought the phone and is paying its monthly use bills). These extra precautions may be especially appropriate and effective for parents of younger teens and children.