Make sure you're aware of your teens' online hangouts

Make sure you're aware of your teens' online hangouts »Play Video

You may be checking your kids' Facebook pages to make sure they're OK.  But that's not where they are really spending their digital time.

The KATU Problem Solvers met with a group of local teens to talk about the new teen Internet hangouts and how they work.

The issue has a serious side for parents. The mother of a 12-year-old girl in Florida who was bullied online and committed suicide said she checked her daughter's messages but did not know she was getting bullying texts through a separate app called Kik Messenger.

The teens met at Pip's Frozen Yogurt and Gelato on Northwest Cornell Road in Portland across from Sunset High School. They told us they usually use Facebook for school or family, but they hang out elsewhere, often sites and apps that use more pictures than words.

Taylor Chin, age 17, prefers Instagram over Facebook and Twitter.  Instagram is somewhat like a picture version of Twitter.

"Mostly because of the visuals," Chin said.

Seventeen-year-old Dylan Vazquez added, "We're just kind of interested in seeing things.  That's why Instagram is so big, is that you get an actual image of what's going on."

Parents may want to know some possible downsides to Instagram: the images are automatically public, for anyone to see, unless your teen changes them to private. And some people post things you may not want your kids to see.

"There are some things like porn. They have people kissing and sex stuff and I don't need that on my news feed," said Chin.

Vazquez said his friends post milder images on Instagram, like "cool places where people go on hikes or go to visit."

The teens also use Snapchat, where you can send pictures or videos that disappear after a short time.

"Snapchat's kind of stupid if you think about it, but it's also really fun because you get to have a conversation with people while you also see their face," said Vazquez.

Possible downsides: some people think the disappearing messages mean they can do things like sexting risk-free. And they may not know that special apps can save those messages forever.

Sixteen-year-old Nikky Martin said she is careful about what she posts and sends, not just on Instagram and Snapchat, but on Tumblr, too. Tumblr is similar to a visual scrapbook you send out to the world.

"It's really hard because it's so fun. Once you go on there and it's been like a few minutes, and then it's been two hours and it's like, where did the time go?" said Martin.

Parents may want to know that their teen's first Tumblr account is automatically public. Also, people sometimes post porn and other things that are not kid-friendly.

Martin loves social media, but there are some places she and her friends will not hang out, like Kik, an app that lets people text to each other, sometimes under a fake identity.

"They can hide who they are and say, like, I'm a 13-year-old girl, but I'm really a 28-year-old man," said Martin.

Another site they avoid: ask.fm, where people can ask questions anonymously and where the questions can quickly turn into bullying.

"Since it's anonymous, they can send whatever they want.  So they can be, like, 'Oh, you're so fat and ugly.'  Or, 'You're so fake, you have no friends,'" said Martin.

With many sites or apps, these kids don't want their parents on there with them. They consider it their personal space, even if it's open for everyone else in the world to see.

"I think it's more for our generation and I don't think my mom would understand some of the things on there.  She'd be like, 'Why did you post this?  I don't get it," said Chin.

How can parents learn how to see what their kids are posting, what they are seeing and who is contacting them?

Chin's twin sister, Alex, suggested, "Maybe try to act like, 'Oh, I want to have an Instagram account, can you show it to me?' And if they know a lot about Instagram, then they obviously have an account and you'll know what they're up to."

Sixteen-year-old Rushil Vora suggested another plan. "I think parents are better off asking straight-up, rather than being sneaky. A lot of teens are willing to admit what they've done," he said.

Other suggestions: parents can listen to their kids talking to their friends, because they'll probably say the names of their digital hangouts. Listen for places like Oovoo, Pheed, Wa-ne-lo and Voxer, and look up the names online to learn more.

Also, if parents are concerned about something their child has posted, they can explain to them why the post is a concern, for example, if it could be offensive and why.

Parents can also tie their concerns about posting online to a teen's job search. Some employers are telling teens that they are aware of what kids are posting, and if it's inappropriate, they could lose their jobs.