YouNow is a real-time live streaming app and website which allows users to broadcast live. Anyone, anywhere in the world, who goes to YouNow can watch, chat and comment on/with the user. The site has been around since 2011, but I hear my teenage clients talking about it with more and more frequency so I thought it was time to check it out. YouNow has millions of users and 70% of them are under the age of 24.
I took a few seconds, created an account and started watching. What I saw creeped me out. I logged out quickly but then noticed that I didn’t even need an account to start watching people live. I continued to scroll around and noticed that there are categories you can choose from, for example, #lucky, #girls, #boys, #lgbt, and #sleepingsquad, to name a few. I chose #sleepingsquad and literally, there were 8 video boxes of people either sleeping or in bed. I had the choice to watch all of them or to choose one, which would have given me the option to chat with the sleeping stranger in the live video.
There were adult men, teenage girls, and teenage boys, streaming themselves either sleeping or staring awkwardly into the webcam, live, in real time.….creepy. I then switched to #girls and saw a young adolescent, maybe 10 or 11 years-old talking about her school and the town she lived in. Next, I visited #LGBT and found a teen boy, maybe 16 years-old, with no shirt on, slurring, behaving strangely, and talking about needing to get high.
I closed my browser but couldn’t shake the anxiety; If I can peer into a child’s bedroom that quickly, so can anyone else. This is not safe at all.
PARENTS BE AWARE OF THE DANGERS:
- ONLINE PREDATORS: They are on all kinds of messaging sites, social media platforms, and gaming sites, but a live video feed into a child’s bedroom, allowing anyone to view and chat with that child, makes the predators’ job way too easy.
Anyone can have an account and there is no way to verify age. The hashtags make it very easy for a pedophile or predator to identify their prey; #sadandsleepy seems like an easy way to connect with a vulnerable child, in their bedroom, with no adult supervision.
Steve Blocker is a private investigator and demonstrated just how to find someone who is live broadcasting in less than 15 minutes. While on YouNow, he found a teen user who said she lived in Indiana. He took her YOUNOW screen name, social media account handles and used Google to do a quick search.
Blocker said, “in less than 15 minutes, we had a picture of her house on Google Earth, and we were able to match the curtains from the girl’s curtains on YouNow to curtains that are actually showing on the picture on Google Earth.”
He was able to view the teen girls birthdate, full name, her parent’s names, where she works and which school she goes to. He could see her friends, her dog and pictures and videos she has posted online.
- CYBERBULLYING AND BULLYING: Teens and preteens recording live video of themselves are obviously doing it for a reason. The comments others leave don’t come with any accountability and can be destructive to a child’s already shaky self-worth.
What I found most disturbing while on YOUNOW, was seeing the sad and lonely faces of these young kids, some staring into the camera obviously waiting for someone to either click on their video or to engage them in some way. That is a setup for disaster.
Parents, you may think that your child would never engage in live-streaming inappropriate images of themselves or content, but you can’t be sure unless you are monitoring what they are doing online.
Adolescence is a time hormonal surges and huge emotional experiences. Everything feels more intense to a teenager; music, new exciting experiences, sadness, loneliness, love, and sex. Can you see how an insecure teen might seek attention from a stranger online? Or how a teen who is feeling socially left out might turn to the internet as a way to connect or to feel valued and liked?
We all know that teens are hardwired to engage in risky behavior, but some risks they may take online can lead to serious trouble.
Parents, I spend a lot of time with preteens and teens and I am telling you, your kids are taking risks online and if you don’t believe just how serious this is, I encourage you to spend a few minutes on YOUNOW. You can be a smarter parent, your kids are depending on it.
Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.