As a mom of a fifth-grader, I have laundry list of worries about how his (and my) whole world will change as he leaves his little elementary school and enters the hormone-fueled chaos of middle school next year. I am worried about all the things I remember being difficult about middle school: keeping track of assignments, whether or not you feel “popular” or well-liked — and again, those pesky hormones and everything that goes along with them.
But I am also worried about things I never had to deal with as a teen, and topping the list is social media. My son is already somewhat active online. We talk endlessly about online safety (never, ever give out your name, age, or anything else to anyone online ever) as well as cyberbullying and being sure to practice kindness online. I have parental features enabled on his devices, and he shares all of his online passwords with me so I can check on his activity.
But I know that those types of measures only go so far, especially as kids get older.
So you can imagine my absolute horror when I got wind of a trend in social media that is gaining traction among teens and can potentially be a very dangerous breeding ground for cyberbullying. Apparently, there are social media apps you can download to your phone that allow you to post completely anonymously. As the Huffington Post reports, these “anonymous apps” basically allow teens to talk about each other without anyone knowing whom the comments are coming from, and as you can imagine, these comments are not always the nicest or most complimentary.
“Anonymous apps are notorious hubs for cyberbullying because kids feel emboldened to say things they wouldn’t normally,” writes the Huffington Post. Yes, probably the most glaring concern is the way that these anonymous apps give kids leverage to unleash cruelty on each other. But there are other potential concerns about these apps, including the ability to overshare private details of one’s life as well potentially connecting with dangerous strangers.
And let’s not forget the highly inappropriate content that a kid might encounter on one of these apps.
To be honest, my understanding of teen app use doesn’t go much beyond Snapchat (which is apparently also rampant with cyberbullying), and I only use that for the cute filters that do an excellent job of hiding the dark circles under my eyes.
So, I did us all a favor and researched the two most troublesome and popular “anonymous apps” that are all the rage these days so that if your tween or teen downloads one, you can promptly delete it (or have a long, serious conversation about how to use it safely and responsibility).
This is the app that seems to be causing the most problems, and it doesn’t help that it is extremely popular at the moment. This past summer it was No. 1 in the IOS app store and had 300 million users. Sarahah was originally created to send anonymous feedback to your boss, but it is used most right now for teens to send anonymous messages to each other. After you download the app, you can share the link to your profile with your friends, and then the messages come flooding in. From anyone, anonymously. Uggghhh.
Reviews of the app have included things like, “I’m getting suicidal thoughts from this app,” and “My friend who is suicidal is getting messages like why are u still alive kill urself already.” This. Is. Horrible. If my kids asked to download this app, it would be a big, fat NOPE. Hard pass.
TBH, which stands for “to be honest,” is also very popular these days. On the surface, its premise sounds innocent enough. The app is presented as a positive spin on the anonymous apps that have become problematic over the years. “The only anonymous app with positive vibes” is how it’s advertised in the app store. The way it works is that users answer preprogrammed questions about one another. The questions are ostensibly wholesome and include things like who is “Hotter than the sun” and who is “Most likely to get into Harvard.”
But as you can imagine, questions like these have the potential to turn the whole thing into a popularity contest and alienate and ostracize users who don’t get validated as much as others. Sounds pretty horrendous, if you ask me, especially because the teens years are already riddled with insecurities and trying to live up to the expectations of those around you.
No, thank you.
These two apps are the most popular anonymous ones right now (others to watch out for include Kiwi, Ask.fm, and Kik). But other anonymous apps have come and gone before (YikYak was a very popular, problematic anonymous app that recently shut down). And new ones will constantly be cropping up.
The important thing to remember is that as much as we might want to, we can’t wish technology and social media away. This is the world right now for our kids, and even if we try to shield them from it, they are likely to get their hands on most of this stuff anyway. The key is to teach them how to use it responsibly and let them know that we are always available to talk them through any potential problems.
Most of all, we need to teach our kids to always, always be kind — in real life, and online.