Social networks, apps and games
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WhatsApp

WhatsApp is an instant messaging app which lets you send messages, images and videos in one-to-one and group chats with your contacts. You can choose to share your live location for up to eight hours with one contact or a group.

16+

Official age rating

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Our safety ratings

Overall safety rating:

Our overall rating for WhatsApp

Average


As WhatsApp has an age rating of 16+ there are no parental controls available. There are various privacy settings that can help keep your child safe such as managing who can see their profile picture and bio and who can add them to a group.

Be aware that WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted meaning that only the sender and recipient can see the contents of a message. This makes it harder to stop inappropriate behaviour.

If you decide to let your child use WhatsApp, you should make sure to explore all the privacy settings available and agree some rules around who they’re allowed to talk to on the app.

 

Safety features

There are no age verification or parental controls available on the app. To register you're only required to share a mobile number.

WhatsApp has an age rating of 16+ but as there is no age verification it would be easy for a child with a phone to sign up for an account without permission.

WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted meaning that only the sender and recipient can see the contents of a message. This makes it harder to stop inappropriate behaviour.

There are a large range of features within WhatsApp, such as sharing location (live and one-off), broadcasting your status, sharing contacts, customising wallpapers and personalising group names. They also recently introduced a ‘Disappearing Messages’ feature that if enabled automatically deletes messages after seven days.

Privacy & location

There are lots of privacy settings available on WhatsApp that you should explore with your child. These include managing who can see your bio and profile picture, who can see when you were last on the app, status visibility and who can add you to a group.

WhatsApp has a feature that lets users share their real-time location. Make sure to switch off location sharing on your child’s device so they can’t do this.

Reporting & blocking

It’s easy to report and block other people in 1:1 chats and group chats on WhatsApp. However, you can’t report specific pieces of content due to end-to-end encryption.

WhatsApp also has Community Guidelines which outlines to users how they should behave on the app.

Content

There is no function on WhatsApp to report individual pieces of content, like an image or video. If your child is sent something inappropriate the only option is to block or report the user who sent it.

Top tips for staying safe

Sitting down with your child and exploring WhatsApp together is a great way for you to learn more about why they might like to use it.

It also gives you a chance to chat with them about the privacy settings and agree some rules around who they can talk to. You should tell them to come to you if anyone they don’t know tries to send them a message.

You might also want to discuss some of the different features available like ‘Disappearing Messages’ and decide together whether they can use them.   

We would recommend reading WhatsApp’s article on Privacy and Settings for more information on how to keep safe using the app.

Sometimes children can feel pressure to always be online and respond to messages straight away. To help with this, you can turn off last seen and read receipts so people can’t see when they’ve read a message. You should also encourage them to mute chats if they’re getting lots of notifications and feel overwhelmed.

Your child might receive upsetting or negative things from other users on WhatsApp. If this happens, they might want to report or block them.  

WhatsApp has guidance on how to block other users, as well as general information on staying safe.

Take the time to explore this with your child, discussing when and why you might want to block somebody.

And remember to let your child know that they can always talk to you about anything they see online. 

WhatsApp group chats mean your child might be added to conversations with people they don’t know, which could increase the chance they come across upsetting or negative messages. (But remember, they could still see this from people they do know!)

WhatsApp default settings mean that anyone, including people outside your child’s phone contacts, can add them to group chats without their approval. To prevent this, we recommend changing the group chat settings from ‘Everyone’ to ‘My Contacts Except…’ and using the tick icon to select all contacts.

The ‘My Contacts Except…’ option means only your child’s phone contacts, except those you exclude, can add your child to groups. But by selecting all contacts, it means that nobody should be able to add your child to a group chat without first sending them an invitation, which they’ll need to accept before being added to a group chat.

For a step by step guide, WhatsApp has more information on group chat settings.

In the settings, under privacy, you can change who can see your personal info, including your profile photo.

We recommend exploring these features with your child and changing the settings so that only your child’s contacts, or nobody, can see their personal information.

Make sure that their profile photo and status updates only visible to their contacts or nobody at all. This will help to keep their identity private from people they might not know.

We also recommend changing who can see the ‘about’ info (a bit like a status) to either their contacts or nobody. And remind your child not to share details about their location here. If they need to let friends or family know where they are, they can message them separately.

WhatsApp has guidance on how to change your privacy settings.

Help your child think about what they share online and who sees it. Compare it to what they would be happy to share offline.

Use examples that are easy for them to understand: “You shouldn't give your number to somebody you don't know on the street. Is somebody online you don't know any different?”

Listen to their answers. And be positive and encouraging.

Remind them that they shouldn’t share private things, such as:

  • personal information, like names, emails, phone numbers, location and school names
  • other people's personal information
  • links to join private group chats
  • photos of themselves
  • photos of their body, such as sexual photos or videos.

Explain that you understand the internet is a great place to play, create, learn and connect. But remind them they can talk to you if anything upsets or worries them.

Reassure them that you won’t overreact – you’re just looking out for them.

It’s important to remind your child that they can talk you, another adult they trust, like a teacher, or Childline about anything they see online.

O2 Guru top tip

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On WhatsApp privacy

If your child is receiving inappropriate messages, show them in settings how to block people they don't know from contacting them.

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Talking to your child

Having open, regular conversations with your child will help you to really understand and explore the online world together. Our tips and advice can help you start these conversations.

Talk about staying safe online

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