How Concerned Should Parents Be About Kik?

Kik is one of the more popular messenger apps used by tweens and teenagers. Parents should learn about this app because it has a history of being a breeding ground for online predators, spammers, hackers and more. Worse yet, I’ve spoken with local law enforcement officers who report that the company has been very reluctant to help them with cases involving cyberbullying and harassment where other platforms would be more willing to help.

Kik was going to shut down in 2019 but came back in a modified format. In the new format, users can have Kik put them together into a private chat based on mutually liked topics, such as music, games, travel, etc. These private rooms are anonymous, and users have several minutes to decide if they wish to continue the discussion using their official profiles.

Another feature allows people can create group chats for up to 50 people. The members of the group stay in the group even after they stop using the app each day so they can return to it later. Additionally, Kik has created quite a few public chatrooms for groups based on topics like where they live, hobbies, etc. Many of them, especially those that are from a specific geographic area, tend to fill up quickly. That makes them an easy place for predators to find local targets.

Take a look at the graph below to see how I rate Kik on several key areas of concern for parents. In my article for Pediatric Safety on Instagram, I explain in much more detail what the values on the graph mean and how using an app might endanger a child, but here it is in short form:

What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app.

  • Rating < 5 is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.
  • A rating of 5-6 is average risk – it should concern parents, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic and should concern parents quite a bit.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is very troubling as that behavior is almost a certainty within this app, and involves issues that are likely of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography.

Catfishing (10 out of 10)

Of all of the apps that I’ve seen, Kik rates the worst when it comes to the number of catfish (fakes) on it. Similar to Whisper, Kik is considered an “anonymous app”, but unlike Whisper, it actually has a profile of sorts. This can trick people into believing that the person at the other end is as shown in the profile. It’s not a safe assumption, but many people, especially inexperienced kids, often make it.

Cyberbullying (7 out of 10)

Cyberbully can happen on any site and Kik is no different. It is pretty easy to block someone who attacks you directly in private messages. Where cyberbullying is most likely to happen is within a Kik group. Once in a group, the members can “roast” another person. Unlike the humorous roasts people see on TV of celebrities, social media roasts tend to be cruel. Imagine being attacked online, live, by dozens of people all at once!

I’ve been invited into more than one group, only to be roasted because of my age (I show my real age). When teens see someone old enough to be their father on Kik, they feel the need to treat them with disdain. Many either see me as a predator or at the least, a weirdo for being online with teenagers. I take that as a good sign, actually, that those teens are at least looking out for predators. Sometimes, however, I’ve been approached by younger users who want to start a relationship with me.

Language (10 out of 10)

One of the funniest things on Kik is seeing people using intentionally incorrect spelling. They’re trying to avoid being detected by filters to help identify cyberbullying, sexting and the like. For example, rather than saying that they are looking for sex, they will put spaces between the letters. Another option is to spell words phonetically.

What they fail to realize is that the site has no interest in doing such a thing. Even casual observation by the company would notice how prevalent the problem is and if the company wanted to take action, they could do so easily. If they wanted to scan for people who type, “I want sex,” they can also scan for people who type, “I want s e x,” or some other common variation of vulgar/inappropriate speech.

Profanity, racial and homophobic slurs are very common on Kik. As are attacks based on nationality, political beliefs and just about anything else that people can think of to attack. The public groups created by people are often listed as “unmoderated” or “no limits” and the posts in those rooms can get intense, but not always. I’ve seen some group admins be responsible and remove users who act inappropriately.

Nudity (9 out of 10)

This app features plenty of nudity on it, including both pictures and videos. Like many social media apps, users have a profile picture. While many of the accounts have acceptable images, that’s not always the case. Some users include inappropriate images, even of younger children.

Private chats between users can embed images directly in the conversation. I have seen quite a bit of nudity sent, usually from automated accounts trying to get me to follow a link to have access to even more images. I have also received unsolicited images and videos from people that contain nudity, both of men and women. Below is a private message sent directly to me from an account that I never engaged with previously. The image on the left is the profile picture on the account.

I have reported accounts to Kik but have never seen any actions taken as a result. It is possible that the service took actions without telling me, but I have my doubts. Even if they did, it’s all too easy to simply start a new account with another email address.

Privacy (5 out of 10)

I don’t consider any app/site to be private. That said, Kik scores lower than most simply because of how it works. There is really no expectation of privacy on the app. Users can block individual users from contacting them, but that’s about it. My personal blocked list has several hundred accounts on it.

Sexting (10 out of 10)

Despite what the original or publicly claimed intention was for Kik, it has evolved into essentially a pure sexting app. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on this app and while there are a few people not looking for sexting, I find that the majority of users are hoping to find someone for sexting purposes.

Beyond the posting actively looking for people to sext or roleplay with, a innocuous introduction to someone, such as “Hi.” or “How are you?”, can often result in an obscene reply, often with images. Considering the amount of catfishing that happens on the site, who knows if the images are of the actual user.

Sextortion (9 out of 10)

Hand in hand with sexting comes sextortion, the blackmailing of someone to provide nude images/videos. If you’re not familiar with what sextortion is, take 60 seconds to watch this video. It is a very realistic demonstration as to how sextortion starts.

Stalking (5 out of 10)

Offline stalking with this app is very difficult to do, so long as users don’t share personal information with others, such as telling them where they live or go to school.

With its anonymous nature and limited profile, the only way that most people can be stalked on Kik is by not blocking people who might follow them on the app. Even if they do, people can easily create a new profile and stalk people and predators are known for having multiple accounts on each apps to stalk people and avoid being blocked. Some even use another account to create two distinct personalities – one to stalk and harass someone and another to befriend the person.

Viruses (10 out of 10)

Most of the accounts that I have blocked appear to be automated accounts (bots). They typically offer free nude pics to anyone who will follow the link provided. I have never followed any of the links, because it’s one of the easiest ways to allow viruses/malware access to your device.

I can’t say it any plainer than this: just don’t follow any link that you don’t absolutely know it’s origin and destination, no matter where it looks like it might be taking you. To see what I mean, read this article I wrote on malware and see just how easy it is for people to trick you.

Bottom Line

It’s all too easy for bad things to happen to good people on Kik. I’m not saying that the company does this intentionally, but I haven’t seen much in the way of the company helping prevent it. Bark, a company that provides parenting software for kids’ devices reported earlier this year that Kik has the most flagged app for severe sexual content.

To help navigate Kik as safely as possible, kids should do the following:

  1. Personally, I don’t trust any of the KiK accounts to be what they claim to be. Trust but verify is very difficult to practice here, as there are way too many accounts that seem to be something other than what they claim to be.
  2. Remember that links don’t always take you where they look like they may go. Never follow a link sent by someone to avoid the risks of having viruses and malware accidentally installed on your device.
  3. Avoid giving anyone information that can be used to help locate you to avoid giving a potential predator a way to track you down. That includes giving them an email address, credentials to a different social media account (very common on Kik) or personal information such as your address or phone number.

With four topics receiving a maximum of 10 and two that received a 9, Kik is an app that parents should think twice about before letting their kids use it.

As I mentioned earlier, I have already done a similar article here on Instagram as well as one on Whisper and will be doing more apps in the future, so please feel free to check back here for more articles on popular apps. You can also check out my other articles here on Pediatric Safety by visiting my profile and complete list of articles.

BUZZY – Because We ALL Need Shots That Don’t Hurt!

As a pediatrician, I strongly support vaccination. I never thought shots were a big deal; parents and staff even chuckle sometimes when a kid is freaking out about shots. You know, ‘deal with it’. I have taken care of children who died from vaccine-preventable diseases, and I used to think that any delay in shots endangers all society. Then I had my own kids, and witnessed firsthand that while vaccines don’t hurt children, shots do. Like most of the 22% of adults who fear needles, my son Max developed a phobia after a horrible shot experience at age 4. This fear affected him every time he had to go to the doctor. I gradually realized that if I didn’t act he could go through adulthood avoiding medical care.

It makes sense that being held down and subjected to more than five shots at a time could have a lifelong impact on complying with health care. When I tried to use numbing creams, one nurse said “that stuff doesn’t work, they need to get used to it”, and gave the shot outside the numb zone! I got mad at the system and myself. If I couldn’t protect my child and I’m part of the system, what parent could? I wanted to come up with something that worked instantly that parents and patients with established needle phobia could bring and use even if the healthcare system wasn’t interested.

I knew that the body could stop pain naturally using something called “gate theory”. If you bang your knee and rub it the pain stops, if you smash your finger and shake it, it helps the pain, or if you burn your finger and stick it under cold running water it quits hurting. I thought of cuffs of cold water, all sorts of messy stuff. Driving home from the hospital one day it occurred to me that vibration would block pain, but it wasn’t until my husband suggested frozen peas UNDER the vibration that it really made my kids’ hands numb to sharp pokes. And Buzzy was conceived.

Buzzy® uses natural pain relief by confusing your body’s own nerves and distracting attention away from the poke, thereby dulling or eliminating sharp pain. Over the past 5 years my children helped test, build, and prototype Buzzy until we had a device that worked. They smashed cell phones, helped me use electric tape and elastic bands, and have served as my first and best advisors. We started with a hand held massager and frozen peas, and finally got to a cute bee with frozen wings.

From a scientific standpoint, I didn’t want to put it out there unless I knew it worked for other people as well as my kids. The Mayday Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to the reduction of pain and suffering, sponsored Georgia State to do a research study in adult volunteers getting IVs inserted. Buzzy significantly decreased pain, and was more effective the more anxiety people already had. A trial in children needing IV starts in the emergency department also showed significantly decreased pain by child and parent report, and even increased IV success threefold. On the basis of this, we got a $1M grant from the National Institutes of Health to study whether Buzzy reduces the pain of immunizations, and hopefully can avoid the development of needle phobia.

How important is this?? Although needle pain from a shot may not seem like a big deal, needle sticks are the most common and most feared cause of medical pain in the world. Blood donation, preventative health care, and diagnosing serious illnesses like cancer are all impacted by fearing doctors and needles. Conversely, awareness and use of available pain control methods for children can result in years of improved health. Buzzy® is now being used for dentistry, travel immunizations, fertility shots, and finger pricks, splinter removal, and flu injections! We’ve heard from parents who had considered stopping more effective injected or IV treatments due to needle fear who are now able to give their kids the best treatment due to Buzzy. We’ve even heard from kids… stories and letters that remind us that Needle Pain Matters…and because of that, so does Buzzy.

HEALTHFUL HINTS:

Before a shot:

My area of research is pain control, so I hear a lot of stories about drama at the doctor’s. For young children, pain is punishment and scary, so addressing fear is an important first step to making shots less of a big deal. Children are less fearful when they know what’s happening and feel in control. Sadly, there are no global answers, but there are some general tricks of the trade you can try.

  • When asked “am I going to get a shot?” focus on the benefit. “Yes, they have medicine that keeps you healthy.”
  • NEVER promise they won’t get a shot unless you intend to follow through and come back another time if they’re due for one
  • NEVER threaten with a shot if children don’t behave (establishing a needle as punishment or you as untrustworthy will guarantee a bad experience).
  • If the child’s question is, “Is it going to hurt?”, avoid using the words pain or hurt. Instead, use the word “bother”, and answer this way: “Actually, a lot of kids aren’t that bothered by shots. Before you get them, I’ll show you how we will make getting them not a big deal.”
  • If they’ve had a bad experience in the past, say “I found out about some new cool things we can do to make them much more comfortable.”

And now – the shot:

  • First, relieving kids’ distress begins with you. The best combination is warm but firm. No apologizing, empathizing, or letting them “just go to the bathroom real quick.” Instead, use praise, “I know you can do this”, and direct them to pay attention to non-shot related things before they get anxious. “Oh, look, SpongeBob.”
  • Second, the person giving the shots. These are research-proven things that make shots hurt less:
    • Give the least painful shot first
    • Give the shots sitting up in the arm after age 18 months
    • Use a slower push
    • Use a longer needle
    • Use “position of comfort”: facing you on your lap, or with your arm around the child if they are older and receiving shots sitting up. Being held flat is the most vulnerable positing you can be in; much better if 4-6 year olds can straddle your lap facing you and get shots while you hug them.
  • Third, to help overcome established needle-phobia:
    • There are creams (over the counter LMX-4, Ferndale Labs) which can be applied 20 minutes in advance, or prescription EMLA (Astra-Zeneca) which needs at least an hour. Be sure they’re placed correctly, and know that they only numb the surface. Never promise complete pain relief. Instead, try “these will help a LOT!”
    • Studies show that appropriate distraction decreases distress. While the nurse is getting the injections, let a child choose from multiple visual games or tasks to focus elsewhere during the shot. “Do you want me to read to you, or give you things to find?” Be prepared to pick if they’re indecisive. “You know what I think would be good? Let’s do this…” Bee-Stractors Emergency Entertainment cards can be kept in a purse or glove compartment for situations when you forget to plan ahead.
    • Tasks that include a sensation also help focus attention away from the poke: for example, tell your child to count zigzags as you scratch the edge of a fingernail on their arm. Tell the child to yell “now!” when a fingernail gets to the elbow or wrist. For multiple shots or a seriously anxious child, bring an ice pack or vibrating toy to touch other body parts and have the child name the body part touched by ice. “Knee! Leg! Nose!” Even better, touch them with an ice pop and 5 right answers wins the pop!
    • And speaking of ice packs, studies have shown that putting an ice cube on the site before a shot can decrease the pain. Adding an element of vibration during the poke can help as well, like when a dentist wiggles your lip during Novocaine. This is the breakthrough of Buzzy, but you can achieve the same results with any vibration/solid ice pack combination. For best results, let the child feel the sensations beforehand by scratching the arm under the ice pack/vibration source. “See how cold this is, and see how now you can’t feel so much any more?” Seeing for themselves and agreeing with you helps the child feel in control.

Whatever happens, praise how they did!

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Editor’s Note: With the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, COVID-19 cases are on the rise around the United States as well as the rest of the world. And though there is currently no approved vaccine for kids under 12, there is still a tremendous role that Buzzy can play! Over half of adults unvaccinated for COVID-19 fear needles. To no-one’s surprise, this same fear affects how willing teens and adults are to get vaccinated. The good news is you don’t have to be a child for Buzzy to help. Although we first ran this post in 2011, what Dr. Baxter has to say is as true today as it was then. Shots hurt…and they shouldn’t…and with Buzzy, they don’t have to.

Please – if you haven’t already – for your sake and the sake of your family
Get vaccinated for COVID!

Your Child Has Summer Sniffles …Is It a Cold or Allergy?

Last updated on August 8th, 2021 at 03:29 pm

child sneezing during the summerSummer time is the time for fun and family enjoyment. The early and late parts of summer are, however, noticeable for stirring up allergic symptoms due to grass and trees in May and June and such plants as ragweed during August and September. Symptoms such as burning, itching eyes and runny, itchy nose with or without cough are typical symptoms of environmental allergies. There is no fever as this is not an infection. Symptoms of a summer cold however can mimic those of allergy, but usually itching is not a major part.

A cold, or upper respiratory infection, is, as the name implies an infection by viral agents that usually invade through mucus membranes (inside of nose, mouth or eyes), set up shop and multiply to some extent. The multiplication is usually self-limited as the body’s natural defense systems go to work. When the defenses are working, there may be fever, achiness, headache and a variety of other minor symptoms. Allergic symptoms do not usually include the systemic symptoms mentioned above.

Unfortunately sometimes, cold and allergy symptoms occur simultaneously, causing some confusion among parents, patients and Doctors in terms of diagnosis. Sometimes, also, it is impossible to tell them apart even to the most trained eye.

The bottom line is even though there may be no telling them apart, there is no cure for the common cold, and the combined symptoms can be treated similarly.

If a child has known environmental allergy, he/she may be treated with an antihistamine such as Benadryl for short term (4 – 6 hrs) or Claritin, Zyrtec, or Allegra for long term (once or twice every 24hrs) for the symptoms; no response may indicate a cold and not allergy, while the concurrent symptoms of fever, achiness, headache and others may strengthen the diagnosis of a cold.

Certainly it is worthwhile to use a humidifier in his or her room to moisten irritated mucous membranes, drink plenty of fluids, and use Tylenol or Advil in the appropriate dosages for poorly tolerated symptoms. Important to note that controlling fever with the use of these medications is not necessary unless your child is very uncomfortable. Using these medications will not get rid of the fever in the long run, but it will make him or her feel more comfortable in the short term. The fever, remember, is there because the body is fighting off the infection and therefore is a relatively good sign in a healthy child. The fever will persist until the cleansing process is finished.

Water Explorers: Family Fun in the Sun

Last updated on August 8th, 2021 at 03:30 pm

Water ExplorersFew images evoke the feeling of “getting away from it all” as does a canoe, kayak or raft gliding with the current. But you don’t have to live on water — or own a boat, for that matter — to organize an offshore trip. Nor do you have to sign on to an expensive, multi-day, wild river run to experience the wonders of water travel (sans motor) firsthand. With a little research, you can plan a safe and fun expedition that won’t sink your finances in the process.

Rent, rent, rent your boat: Where there is a lake or river, there are usually clubs, outfitters and/or liveries that rent out small vessels — and of course, life jackets — for several hours. Former river guide and adventure mom Julie Thorner of Bryson City, N.C., recommends using an adventure vacation site and doing a little research to find reputable outfitters. Typically, you don’t have to worry about securing a permit. That’s the job of the organization you rent from, and it’s covered by the small fee you’ll be charged for the rental.

Know your water: What you do need to worry about, says Thorner, are the conditions of the water you plan to travel on. She advises all canoeists, kayakers and rafters to make a point of knowing the water. Rivers and rapids are classified to help paddlers know how challenging a route is. For example, a Class I river has few ripples or obstacles, a Class II has some moderately difficult rapids and so on up to Class V, an extremely challenging river with narrow passages, rocks and violent waves.

Know your limits: Novice paddlers looking for excitement can consider a rough river but only if they invest in the services of a guide to travel with them, says Thorner. The experience of a seasoned paddler will help calm nerves — if not the waters — when the craft encounters Class III or IV rapids. A good outfit will have a policy for determining age-appropriate trips. Just make sure in advance that all members of your group, kids and adults alike, are up for the adrenaline rush that comes when you hit dicier waters.

Take it slow: Prefer to leave the guide behind? Paddling newcomers should stick to lakes, which are flat except during windy weather, or Class I or II rivers. You don’t need a guide to do a day float on a gently flowing river or on a lake, says Thorner. “Plus, it’s a great confidence builder to do it on your own,” she says. If younger children are on board, bring along plenty of snacks and plan to stop several times along the banks of the lake or river, making sure to tie up the boat if you intend to swim or walk along the shore.

A no-tip tip: It doesn’t take much for a heavy canoe or traditional kayak to tip over, and righting them, especially in a current of any kind, can be very difficult. Many outfitters also offer inflatable kayaks (often called duckies) and rafts, which are less tippy and much easier to right should they flip over and you fall out. Patsy Fisher of Etna, N.H., once tipped a canoe on the Connecticut River while paddling on her own, and pulling the overturned craft to shore — forget about righting it — was “incredibly difficult.” That’s one reason she prefers the serenity of canoeing on the lake near her home, especially when she’s with one of her three children. “You can hold a conversation — or not — while you’re skimming across the water,” she says. “It’s physical, it’s peaceful, and you can enjoy nature.” Perfect.