Like most parents, I started out my journey feeling confident in my kids’ digital world. I watched with pride as they searched for information for a school project on Susan B. Anthony or watched a YouTube video on how to use the lattice method for multiplication. Most of time, I marveled at how we ever got along without a computer. As the kids got older and my family’s technology use increased, my confidence began to waver.
As the number of devices multiplied, I was struggling to keep up and understand what they were doing online and what they could do online. When I went looking for guidance most of the rules were for a non-mobile world: 1) keep the desktop computer in the family room or kitchen and 2) friend them on Facebook. It is lot harder to limit cell phone use to one area of the house. Besides, with a cell-phones small screen it’s hard to see whom your child is texting even if they’re sitting beside you. How do you friend someone when you are not even sure what app they are using and some apps don’t even have friends or followers?
I discovered parenting in the digital world is not about chasing apps. It is about teaching our kids how to live healthy online and offline lives. Instead of reacting to every new device, app or headline, parents need to start talking early. As soon as they can hold a device, we are beside them teaching them how the online world works. Along the way, we create age appropriate rules to protect them while allowing them opportunities to explore the digital world.
For kids, there is no divide between their offline and online world. Conversations started at school move in to texting or messaging through an app. After school activities are shared with friends through Instagram or Snapchat. To them it is part of their lives. What they are doing online reflects what is happening offline.
So, we need to expand our talk to include not just the big harms but the everyday interactions of what they say and do online. When they receive their first device or join their first social network, we talk to them about being respectful and kind. We show them how to manage their digital reputation and be respectful of others. Ultimately, we show our kids how to incorporate technology in a healthy and positive way in their lives.
To help parents with their digital talk, I created a book full of tips and scripts for parents on how to talk to their kids about protecting their personal information, keeping their devices secure, managing their digital profiles, achieving digital balance in the lives and building healthy relationships online. These talks start when they are in preschool and continue through high school. Ultimately, the best online protection a kid will ever have is between their ears.
Coming Soon Summer 2014!
It is time to start talking digital!
Yik Yak is the latest in a series of new anonymous apps. On Yik Yak, people have complete anonymity to share their uncensored thoughts, observations and comments. This app is designed to act as a local bulletin board for communities. Unfortunately, what many people use it for is to post mean and bitchy comments about other people.
Yik Yak is like an anonymous local Twitter feed. It doesn’t require a username, password, or login. You just download it and go. The only data Yik Yak needs is your location. Yaks (as these posts are called) are shared with the first 500 users within a 5 mile radius. Yaks are limited to 200 characters. Other users can reply to a yak or share it on Tumblr, Twitter, etc. They can also promote it within Yik Yak by voting it up or down. Yaks with the most up votes appear in the hot newsfeed.
This app is perfectly suited for school campuses. Schools have lots of people within a 5 mile radius who know each other and want to connect. Most students are not using Yik Yak as a local bulletin board. Several high schools were on lock down due to bomb threats on Yik Yak and others have banned the app due to cyberbullying.
Yik Yak is rated 17+ in the app store, for good reason. When I scrolled through Yik Yak, I found most people were either bragging about their sexual exploits or slamming someone else. Although authors enjoy anonymity, many of them had no problem using their target’s name.
The app states in its rules, “Yaks should not join a herd until they are mature enough, so no one under college age should be on Yik Yak“. In an effort to keep high schoolers off, the company has geofenced areas around high schools and middle schools. So, students cannot access this app within school boundaries. Outside of school, teens can still post. Hopefully, limiting access within school hours will reduce the abuse on this app.
Anonymous apps are trendy now. Teenagers are looking to escape the curated images of Facebook and Instagram. But, some of these apps are not as anonymous or private as they may think. Parents should talk to teens about behaving responsibly all the time not just if an adult is watching.
What Parents should talk to teens about
Apps have age restrictions for a reason. Just like you wouldn’t let a kid see an R rated movie until their ready, they should not be on certain apps until they are older. In the case of Yik Yak, this is a really bad R rated movie – little character development and an awful plot.
Complete anonymity does not exist on the internet. Everywhere they go they leave a footprint online. Even on Yik Yak, police were still able to identify and arrest the student who posted the bomb threat. Teens should always act responsibly online.
Never hide behind anonymity. It is OK to use anonymity to protect themselves and their personal information. It is not OK to use it to hurt others. It is cowardly to slam someone online. If they need to vent, they should talk to a friend in person. Online is not the place for blowing off steam. Because Yik Yak is shared within a school community, teens may think they are just joking around or being funny with their school friends. These “jokes” are rarely funny to the recipient. If they wouldn’t wear the funny joke on t-shirt to school, they should not post it online.
This is not a private playground. Yaks can be shared on other social networks and spread beyond 5 miles. What was a friend pranking them can become the internet dumping on them. Friends should be friends online and off. Remind teens if they see this type of behavior, don’t add to it by reblogging, favoriting, liking or upvoting. They can report inappropriate posts to Yik Yak. They can also talk to a parent or a trusted adult if they have problem or a question.