Anonymous apps like Yik Yak and Ask.fm are very popular and also attract people who are seeking opportunities to be vicious and cruel. Young hearts and minds engaging in these “communities” without full understanding of the best and the worst of human nature are putting their mental and emotional health at risk. The bullying and hate speech can be horrific, and all consuming if not checked by a disciplined mind. These sites are also associated wreaking havoc on school campuses and have been linked to youth suicides in response to the intensive level of personal attacks made possible.
Yik Yak, for example, is one of the most popular apps downloaded in the Apple Store and that is a very telling trend about the cyber social realm that our children must learn to navigate. So if your child has downloaded one of the anonymous apps, and/or has asked to join one of these “communities” it is essential to have a conversation about the real value of the app. It will be important to understand the reasons behind the desire to engage the app, and provide instruction about recognizing the signs of abusive or inappropriate communication and what to do about it.
Sites like Yik Yak and Ask.fm, Wisper, Secret, and any new ones that surface, appeal to the human desire to be heard, and also inspire the dark side of anonymity that can be very cruel and vicious when it feels like there is no personal accountability for what has been communicated.
Age-appropriate. First, make sure that you are enforcing a consistent expectation that your child is using age-appropriate apps. All social media are adult swim. Except platforms like YourSphere which cater to tweens and young teens, the industry minimum age to join social media apps is 13 years old; some are 17 years.
See related on Mashable: 5 social media apps for kids
Explain to your child that it is not “no” but rather, “how and when” to engage social media so that they can be properly prepared for social media through training that includes understanding how to protect your privacy and deal with cruel and unkind things that can make you feel small, insecure or frightened. To learn more about setting and maintaining age-appropriate boundaries for use of smart devices, go to: Cyber Rites of Passage.
Risk/benefit assessment. Have a conversation with your child about why there is interest in the app. Explore the nature of the content and the interaction together. Have your child make a list of the pros and cons of using this app, including how much time will be spent and what is actually accomplished.
Recognizing good and evil. Avoid the trap of teaching children only the good because they need to recognize evil for evil and respond with good –especially in a cyber-powered world. The unwise premise is that if we only teach our children how to be kind to others and avoid risky traps, they won’t experience cruelty or fall into experiences and circumstances defined by bullying, drugs and exploitation. The reality is that under the right circumstances and the wrong thinking, we are capable of anything. Hence many people, in situations where they feel anonymous (in a crowd or in an app), wind up sharing and encouraging very mean and vicious thoughts especially when they are feeling insecure. So while we must most certainly teach our children about being kind, we must also help them to recognize and confront evil when they encounter it.
Examples of evil to discuss with your child
- Gossip. If the information being shared about an individual is not going to benefit the person with whom you are sharing it, or there is not a need to know, then it is gossip. A simple rule of thumb: share kind statements and withhold critical or mean statements about others. Put yourself in the subject of the sentence and if it doesn’t feel good, then don’t share it unless the person you are sharing with needs to know or must know in order to help.
- Sympathy from strangers. If you are receiving a personal outreach from someone you don’t know, who is trying to “connect” around something that makes you feel vulnerable or to make you “feel better” then be suspicious. Bring the communication to the attention of the parent or another trusted advisor. Children need to understand that “predators” prey upon people they perceive as vulnerable. Help your child realize that if they post something that expresses their own personal struggle or emotion, that is what bullies and predators search for. Better to keep a diary off line for really personal stuff and seek wise counsel if you need to talk about it.
- Hate speech. Perhaps a few sessions reviewing some of the things that appear in the news feeds of an app like Yik Yak will give you and your tween/teen something to talk about. Hate speech is anything that inspires vicious, mean, hurtful or destructive intentions towards another person or group of individuals. Simply put it is wishing other ill will. That is evil. Hate speech is compassion-less, intolerant, hopeless, unrelenting, and condemning to death. Some examples: “You are worthless, you should kill yourself,” and “Nobody loves you, why don’t you die.” And then there is hate speech targeted to groups who are singled out as scapegoats based upon sex, race or religious beliefs.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Encourage your child to bring the things that disturb their peace to your attention so that you can help them examine the thoughts behind the disturbance, and re-focus their mind on the truth. Encourage your child to consider that thoughts that disturb the peace are lies that have become real experiences but are not truth unless they allow it in their own mind; while the truth is simple and bring about peace. In this way, we have a choice to agree with evil or pursue good despite witnessing or experiencing evil thoughts spoken into action in their cyber social realms.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.