Long gone are the days of tweens and teens attached to their Facebook feed. There are many apps in town that are grabbing their attention. Over the past few years, several platforms, such as Instagram, SnapChat and Vine, have popped up to provide kids new ways to express themselves.
While Instagram is currently the most used social media outlet for adolescents, kids are looking for new apps that allow them to become incognito online. Anonymous and confessional apps, like Whisper, Secret, YikYak and BurnBook, allow users to post, confess and share secrets online without being recognized or named.
When used appropriately, the sites can provide adolescents an opportunity to express themselves in ways they may not feel comfortable doing offline. It can be cathartic to share that you are frustrated about a test you failed or that Mexican food makes you have gas (yes, that was a real post on Whisper). However, the key words here are “when used appropriately.” With little to no monitoring, these sites have become breeding grounds for inappropriate content, teasing and bullying.
Confessional sites and digital burn books are not necessarily new. Facebook pages, blogs, websites have served as confessionals for many years. None, however, are lighting a fire in school communities they way the above apps are. Parents, school officials and law enforcement are taking note.
Many of these apps post by geographic location, which have turned classrooms into virtual chatrooms causing these apps to be banned in school. Multiple threats have been made via Burnbook, including bullying, bomb threats, school shootings, and the release of nude photos, prompting police involvement on many school campuses.
(As of this posting, the Burnbook app was no longer available to download on iTunes).
So, What’s a Parent to Do?
Think once, twice, trice. When you immediately react about the apps your tween-to-teen is talking about or using, you are sending the message that their curiosity is invalid. Rather, check your emotions and keep an open mind. Listen to your child’s opinions about the apps to gain a better understanding about the appeal.
Do your research! Know what apps kids are on, why they’re popular, and what problems can crop up when they’re not used responsibly.
Keep an eye on your tween-to-teen’s behavior. Ask them about what’s happening in their lives. Pay attention to what they talk about and who they are spending time with. Watch for signs of withdrawal, nervousness or aggression above and beyond what is within normal limits for adolescents.
Take advantage of “teachable moments”. Driving in the car after sports practice, sitting at the dinner table or watching a television show provide ideal moments to open conversations around tech use, current events, and school situations. Keep the dialog general so your child does not feel interrogated, as that will cause him or her to shut down.
Lastly, keep the conversation going. Talk regularly and talk often. Many non-judgmental, non-accusatory “mini-conversations” are better than long, often boring lectures. When talking with your child, consider the flipside, their point of view, while listening to their opinions. Suspend judgment to provide your adolescent with meaningful, balanced information that can leave him or her feeling heard, valued and trusted.
Julie Smith is an adolescent and family psychotherapist specializing navigating the world of tween-to-teens. Join her each month on the Flipside of Parenting *free* webinar to get the skinny on what is going on with today’s kids. Register at www.JulieSmith.com.