Are live streaming apps risky or harmless for my child to use?

If you’re child is using the popular live streaming apps to share their lives with friends and the world, our experts have great advice to help them do it safely.

Prof. Andy Phippen

Andy Phippen

Professor, University of Plymouth

Expert Website

How do live streaming apps work and are they risky for children?

There is growing interest in “live streaming” apps as they become mainstream through platforms such as Facebook. Apps such as Musical.ly also provides Live.ly, to move the functionality offered by their platform away from recording to live broadcast. This is a logical progression of the technology available – as mobile data speeds increase considerably and wifi is increasingly freely available the capacity in the network to allow one to live broadcast from their mobile is easily possible.

The platform providers then wrap interaction features around the streaming functionality, so people can share their streams with friends, or perhaps people they don’t know, and allow them to “like” and comment upon what is going on in the broadcast.
While there have been some high profile cases of extremely harmful behaviours being broadcast using live stream, as with all things social technologically related, they are, of themselves, entirely harmless. They simply provide another way to interact online. However, the behaviour that such platforms encourage, as a result of instant behaviour and instant feedback, are things that we need to reflect upon, particularly when considering risk to children and young people.

In the same way we are unlikely to agree to place a live camera into a child’s bedroom, we need to reflect on whether having live streaming capability on a child’s device is a good idea. Of course, the majority of time children will simply be using these things to interact with friends. But potentially this is an environment where anyone can look at children and ask them to interact with them.

As such, these are not platforms with which children should engage unsupervised – parents should supervise the use of such platforms for such younger children. This doesn’t mean they have to be “on camera”, but they should be in the same location. Even for older (teenage) children, it is worth being aware of who they are streaming to, and why they are doing so. Doing stupid things for “likes” is one thing, being coerced into harmful behaviours is something different and we need to be making young people aware that just because they are asked to do something, that doesn’t mean they have to do it!

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Conor Monk

Conor Monk

Senior Anti-Bullying Coordinator, Diana Award

Expert Website

Taking risks is part of growing up. Taking risks online however, comes with its own unique set of challenges that it’s important for parents and children to be aware of.

Recently there has been a surge in the popularity of live-streaming apps such as Facebook Live, Periscope and Instagram Live. These can be great ways for young people to share a special moment with their friends. However these apps do carry risks.

A stream might have a harmless title but offensive content. As a broadcaster you may stream something that you later regret, but it’s already been seen and saved by a potentially global audience.

You can have a conversation with your child about the best way to use these apps. If possible, you should go through the safety centre with your child, to make sure they understand what tools are available to help them and you.

If they are going to watch streams they should know how to report anything that makes them feel upset, uncomfortable or unsafe. If your child is going to broadcast then they should think carefully about what they’ll be sharing before livestreaming. They might also want to stream privately, so they only reach people they trust.

As with all social networks, your child should know that if something does go wrong, they shouldn’t suffer in silence but should speak to you instead.

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Kathryn Tremlett

Kathryn Tremlett

Professionals Online Safety Helpline Practitioner

Expert Website

Why do children enjoy using live streaming apps and how can parents protect them from sharing too much?

The instant thrill from broadcasting online makes it very appealing. However, we can’t ignore the risks associated with such services and it’s important that you have conversations with your child about the issues they’re likely to face when live streaming.

Talk to your child about body image; challenge the media’s portrayal of sexualised content being the socially accepted norm together. Remind children that, whilst the majority of people online will have good intentions, there will always be those who are there for predatory purposes.

How do young people want to be perceived online and who do they think their audience might be? Think about privacy and how to protect this; remember you can’t edit something that is going out ‘live’.

Find out whether the sites they’re using is age appropriate and, if not, is there a way to make it safer for your child, e.g. changing the privacy settings within the app to specify who can view their videos.

Popular Live Streaming apps include Live.ly for use with Musical.ly, Facebook Live for use with Facebook and Periscope for use with Twitter. All of these apps have the same age restrictions as the sites they are used with and, as such are not intended for use by people under the age of 13. Take a look at the UK Safer Internet Centre’s Social Media Guides for more help here:

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What are some of the things that they should be aware of while using these apps?

Live streaming is a great way for children to have fun and express themselves but there can be risks. Videos are live so you don’t know what you will see when watching other users. This can lead to children seeing inappropriate content. Other users may post nasty comments on your videos and if you don’t turn on privacy settings, strangers, including adults, may be able to watch or talk with you.

The good news is there are things parents can do to help. Before your child starts live-streaming it is a good idea to check to see if you can turn on privacy settings on the social network so that only friends can see their posts. You should also be able to turn off location settings so that followers can’t see where they’re posting from. See if you can block and report other users on the network and show your child how to do this. Call the NSPCC and O2’s Online Safety Helpline for free on 0808 8005002 if you want help and they can talk you through the process.

Have a conversation with your child about the risks of talking to strangers online. Remind them to be share aware and not give out personal information or share videos that they can be identified by, such as them wearing school uniform. Let them know that they shouldn’t feel pressured into doing anything they are uncomfortable with and if they are ever feeling worried, they can come to you.

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