WASHINGTON (AP) — Relieved your kids aren't posting embarrassing messages and goofy self-portraits on Facebook? They're probably doing it on Instagram and Snapchat instead.
The number of popular social media sites available on kids' mobile devices has exploded in recent years. The smartest apps now enable kids to chat informally with select groups of friends without bumping up against texting limits and without being monitored by parents, coaches and college admissions officers, who are frequent Facebook posters themselves.
Many of the new mobile apps don't require a cellphone or a credit card. They're free and can be used on popular portable devices such as the iPod Touch and Kindle Fire, as long as there's a wireless Internet connection.
According to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, more than three-fourths of teenagers have a cellphone and use online social networking sites such as Facebook. But educators and kids say there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that Facebook for teenagers has become a bit like a school-sanctioned prom — a necessary rite of passage with plenty of adult onlookers — while apps such as Snapchat and Kik Messenger are the much cooler after-party.
Educators say they have seen everything from kids using their mobile devices to circulate online videos of school drug searches to male students sharing nude pictures of their girlfriends. Most parents, they say, have no idea.
"What sex education used to be — it's now the 'technology talk' we have to have with our kids," said Rebecca Levey, a mother of 10-year-old twin daughters who runs a tween video review site called KidzVuz.com and blogs about technology and educations issues.
Eileen Patterson, a stay-at-home mom of eight kids in Burke, Va., said she used to consider herself fairly tech savvy and is frequently on Facebook, but was shocked to learn her kids could message their friends with just an iPod Touch. She counts nine wireless devices in her home and has taken to shutting off her home's Wi-Fi after 9 p.m., but Patterson calls her attempt to keep tabs on her kids' online activity "a war I'm slowly losing every day."