Mum's warning about 'creeps' on popular teen app

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Just when you thought it was totally safe to let your kids on social media (just kidding, nobody really thinks that), here comes another warning of ways creeps will try to contact our kids.

Parents whose kids use popular app musical.ly might want to check their settings after a mum shared inappropriate messages her daughter received.

Musical.ly is an app that allows users to make 15-second lip sync videos and share them – either just with friends or publicly – and comment on others' videos. It's intended for users aged 13 and up.

Brenda Jennings shared a screenshot of the messages sent to her daughter Anna, after Anna changed her security settings from private to public.

"I'm eating some parenting-flavoured crow today and reversing my stance on musical.ly," she wrote on her Facebook page.

"It wasn't the hand gestures or obnoxious song loops or even the swears Anna would always report to me that ended her video career, it was finding that she switched her account to public, had deleted comments, and then this, which I found in her 'people you don't know' mailbox."

Brenda is aware of the dangers that lurk online for children, and she thought she had taken all the necessary precautions to keep her daughter safe.

"Honestly, my worries were around trolls and bullies," she told Scary Mommy.

"I knew I'd be checking up on her activity on the regular. I set rules for her: no identifying info, not even her real first name, no swearing, even in lip sync, private account only, and she had to let me review anyone asking to friend her."

But it doesn't take much for a generally well behaved kid to break the rules and change their security settings, as happened with Anna. This is when the dodgy messages started coming through.

"I take the blame for not more directly warning her about creeps like this," Brenda said.

Like many of us, Brenda has been trying to walk the thin line between keeping her daughter safe and scaring her with the facts about the kinds of people that are out there.

"Honestly, I struggle with finding the appropriate way to warn her about predators without crushing her innocence or causing my already anxious kid even more angst. I absolutely want to teach her safety, but don't want her living in fear."

Anna isn't the first kid to receive dodgy messages on musical.ly. One father warned of the dangers after his 8 year old daughter received messages from a stranger – who said he was an 8 year old boy – telling her she was "way too pretty to be single", that he would like to see her body, and that she had him "feeling naughty".

Even if kids keep their account private, they can still use the app's search function and find sexually explicit lyrics, as well as videos with nudity and sexual content.

Brenda acknowledges there is a risk associated with allowing your child on any social media platforms.

"My daughter is a comedian and a performer, so when I saw the app and that her close-in-age cousin had it, I did some research, knowing (as a web and social media professional/enthusiast) that no social media was going to be guaranteed safe."

Reasonably happy with the app, Brenda allowed Anna to start using it. "She started off making pretty funny little clips and I liked that at least if she wanted to be online, she was being creative."

Brenda has now deleted the app from Anna's phone, and Anna hasn't complained.

"Because technically she'd broken other rules of app use (setting her account to public – which is not anything parents controls can prevent – and deleting comments) she didn't even argue," Brenda says.

Although the immediate risk is gone, Brenda knows she still has much to discuss with her daughter. "You know kids always want the why of everything, and at her age, 'People can be shady' wasn't going to cut it. We have more talking to do, but I told her that some people on the internet will try to trick little kids, that they manipulate them for bad reasons."

Brenda's message to other parents is clear and simple: keep an eye on what they're doing online. "I trust your judgement with your own kids, but remind you to be diligent in monitoring their activity."