WhatsApp: Free Messaging App (Student & Parent Guide)

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WhatsApp: Free Messaging App (Student & Parent Guide)

May 13, 2020
Green Zone

Parents and Teachers: This app is listed in the SmartSocial.com Green Zone.
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Gray Zone

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Dangerous Social media challenges

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Table of Contents

WhatsApp is now one of the most used messaging apps in the world, second only to its parent company, Facebook. WhatsApp is easy to use and offers several free ways for people around the world to connect, without using a data plan. 

This guide to WhatsApp will help parents and educators understand the popular app and help students who use it to stay safe.

Forbes Article on WhatsApp
WhatsApp continues as the leading secure messaging platform on the planet. 2 billion users exchange end-to-end encrypted messages in ever-increasing numbers… just like your messages, WhatsApp calls are end-to-end encrypted so WhatsApp and third parties can't listen to them. Forbes

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp Chat example
  • It’s a free messaging app for smartphones and desktops
  • Users can send and receive messages, calls, photos, videos, documents, and voice messages
  • The app promises end-to-end encryption, so only you and the person you're communicating with can read or listen to messages
  • The app has a built-in camera
  • Up to 8 people can join a WhatsApp group video chat or voice call
  • WhatsApp lets the user decide who can add them to a chat group
  • At the time of this review, news reports say Facebook is planning to integrate its new Messenger Rooms feature with WhatsApp, which would allow users to have unlimited group video chats with up to 50 people 

Why do students like WhatsApp?

WhatsApp groups list example
  • There are no message limits or data fees to:
  • Make video calls
  • Send text messages
  • Send videos, photos, and audio messages
  • Users can send disappearing messages, like on Snapchat, through the Status feature
  • Message logs and call logs from WhatsApp will not show up on a phone bill
  • WhatsApp has a huge sticker library, which lets students share their thoughts and expressions without typing a word
  • It’s easy to organize group chats among school clubs, sports teams, groups of friends and relatives, etc. 
  • You can easily share messages, photos, and videos in a group chat
  • Each group can have up to 256 people

Where is WhatsApp available?

WhatsApp in the news

Business Insider headline "WhatsApp user base crosses 2 billion mark, second only to Facebook"
It now has over 2 billion users worldwide, making it the largest social media platform after Facebook Inc, its parent company. Business Insider
USA Today headline: How Jeff Bezos was reportedly hacked: could you be next?
Apps like WhatsApp and various operating systems are rife with vulnerabilities that allow hackers to inject spyware, intercept messages, alter attachments and crash the app for all members of a group chat, cybersecurity researchers have discovered over the past year. USA Today
ABC News headline: Facebook sues Israeli company over WhatsApp spyware
Facebook sued the Israeli hacker-for-hire company…  for allegedly targeting… its encrypted messaging service WhatsApp with highly sophisticated spyware… [that allowed] a smartphone to be penetrated through missed calls. ABC News
Fox 13 Tampa Bay News headline: Sarasota sheriff warns parents about 15 apps that could be used to target children (shows Whatsapp)
[The] Sheriff said social media has made it easier than ever for predators to connect with children. Parents have to be more vigilant about what their kids are doing online and on their phones. Fox 13 News

Why should parents care?

WhatsApp Settings
  • Parents can not keep track of WhatsApp chats, since messages can easily be deleted and don’t show up on phone bills
  • Users can require a Touch ID to unlock the app and read messages. A two-step verification system is also available
  • The app is for users ages 13+, but anyone can create an account without age verification
  • Since group chats can have so many participants, these issues could arise:
  • Cyberbullying
  • Private photos and conversations can easily be downloaded or screenshot and shared with others
  • There is no filter for adult content in chats
  • A “friend of a friend” can easily get added to a group chat, so your student could be chatting with strangers

What can parents do?

WhatsApp Live Location Feature
  • Require your student to turn off the app’s Live Location feature
  • Consider asking your student to share their WhatsApp PIN
  • Talk with your student about the type of information that’s appropriate to share online
  • Encourage your student not to accept group chat requests from strangers
  • Go to Account--> Privacy--> Groups
  • Select one of three options: Everyone, My Contacts, Nobody
  • Change the WhatsApp’s default privacy setting to only allow your student’s contacts to view their profile photo and status
  • Become a Smart Social VIP (Very Informed Parents) Member to help your family stay safe and smart online


Some students might feel they can get away with inappropriate behavior on WhatsApp since messages can be easy to hide. If your student uses the app, it’s a good idea to talk with them about good digital citizenship.  Also, remind them they can always come to you, or a trusted adult, if they ever feel uncomfortable with any situations that arise while they’re using WhatsApp.

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