Everything a Parent Needs to Know About KIK

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In July 2015, a 14-year-old girl named Hayleigh Wilson stole her father’s car from her family’s home in Surgoinsville, Virginia, and picked up a man she had been chatting with online through a mobile messaging app.

The man was a 41-year-old convicted sex offender and ex convict named Ben Shook. The messaging app he used to lure Hayleigh was Kik.

Hayleigh knew Shook had been to prison, but she didn’t know why — and he’d convinced her that he would never harm her. Hayleigh didn’t realize the gravity of her decisions or the nature of just how perilous her situation was until it was far too late. The pair spent weeks on the run, hiding in the woods, eating berries, drinking from creeks, sleeping outside and climbing barbed wire fences to move from place to place.

She couldn’t possibly have been able to predict how far things would go when she first began receiving attention on Kik from a strange, charming man who truly seemed to understand her.  

What is Kik?

Kik Messenger, commonly referred to simply as “Kik,” joins Snapchat and Whatsapp as among the biggest and most widely used messaging apps in existence. Also called “chat apps,” messaging apps allow users to exchange text messages, videos, photos and audio messages with other individuals or as part of a group using wifi instead of traditional SMS.

Our work at TeenSafe has shown us these kind of apps are wildly with teens and young adults because they can use the app without relying on Mom or Dad for a data plan or, in the case of Kik, even a working phone number. 

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One third of all young teenagers — 32 percent of 13-14 year olds and 34 percent of 15-17 year olds — use messaging apps, which anyone can download on their phone.

Kik stands out from other mobile messaging apps because its accounts are based on usernames instead of phone numbers, which makes it easy to remain anonymous. It also has a built-in browser, so users can access the Internet and share information without ever leaving the Kik platform.

Users are supposed to be at least 13 years old and have parental permission if they are under 18. But as with all top messaging apps, there is no enforcement mechanism other than the honor system.

Who Uses Kik

As of August 2015, Kik boasts 240 million registered users — up dramatically from 150 million the previous summer. 

Unlike the Facebook Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and Skype, which see relatively consistent usage across different age demographics, Kik is wildly popular among young people — and almost no one else.

The concentration among the young is evident in the breakdown of registered users:

  • 27 percent of 13-18 year olds
  • 25 percent of 19-22 year olds
  • 13 percent of 23-29 year olds
  • 8 percent of 30-40 year olds
  • 3 percent of 41-54 year olds

Why Teens Like Kik

KATU News in Portland, Oregon, interviewed students at a local high school in 2015, and when they asked about Kik, here are some of the responses they got:

  • “I love it. It’s actually a lot easier than texting.”
  • “A lot of my friends don’t have phone numbers and in the beginning, I didn’t have a phone number, so it was easy for us to contact each other.”
  • “Just connect to the wifi at your house, and you’re able to text.”

It is absolutely true that millions of average, harmless users find Kik attractive for exactly these reasons — but teens like Kik for reasons that are less innocent, as well.

First of all, Kik is password protected, making it harder for parents to monitor their teen’s communication. Some teens also hide apps like Kik in their clouds, so even vigilant parents can’t see it without legitimate monitoring.

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Dangers Teens Face on Kik

It is much easier for predators to establish communication with teens on Kik than it would be if those teens simply used the native text messaging app on their phones.

An adult reporter from the same news organization in Portland opened a Kik account and posed as a 16-year-old girl. Within a short period of time, she was propositioned by older men — sometimes much older men — who began inappropriate conversations even though she made it immediately clear that she was only 16.

They asked her to send nude photos. They sent her unsolicited nude photos of themselves. They asked her to “go live” to see each other naked.

When the reporter interviewed students at the high school, the teens were not surprised. They confirmed that they frequently encounter adult content on Kik or are targeted for inappropriate discussions that often lead to requests for pictures.

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Among Kik’s most problematic hidden dangers are:

  • Porn Bots: Automated programs that try to disguise themselves as suggestive, personalized messages to trick users into clicking onto porn sites.
  • Chat Now: One of the many apps linked to Kik, which opens doors to users outside of your teen’s trusted circle of friends and contacts on Kik.
  • Anonymity and Selection: A convicted sex offender contacted a news organization to warn them that Kik is a powerful tool for predators. He said that the username-based setup helps predators in two ways. First, it helps them remain anonymous. Second, it lets them look for clues in teens’ usernames regarding personal issues that may leave them vulnerable. Kik also allows users to search for people to chat with by age range.

Hayleigh’s story is a nightmare scenario for parents. She disappeared one day with an ex-con sex offender three times her age who they had no idea she had been talking to online.

Fortunately, Hailey and Shook were spotted and authorities were alerted. Shortly after she was returned to her home and family, she gave an interview that seemed to convey that she understands how badly the situation could have ended. Shook is back behind bars facing a litany of charges.

She is one of the few stories that turned out to have a happy ending—so many don’t. It’s up to parents to monitor their children with tools like TeenSafe to ensure their child’s safety, both in the real world and online, because, more often than not, teens don’t realize the danger they are in until it’s too late. After all, the whole situation seemed to start harmlessly enough—with just a “hello” on Kik, that her parents never knew was sent.

Start your free trial at TeenSafe today to begin monitoring Kik on your child’s phone, as well as other apps including WhatsApp and Instagram.

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