Parent Today: Why we need to pay
attention to our kids' social media
Just when you think you have a handle on all the
social media sites your child could possibly frequent, a new one crosses
Take Ask.fm, a social networking website that
originated in Latvia and allows users to anonymously ask and answer
questions of each other. (It's similar to the U.S. based Formspring, and
was developed as a competitor to that site). Ask.fm is a website and app
for iPhone and Android users.
Users need only be 13 years old (or say they are 13)
to sign up for an account. Once you sign up for an account, you can post
any question/answer you want. Questions range from simple ("If you could
drive any car, what would you drive) to sexually charged content.
The site has grown in popularity among teens in the
past year, but more importantly it has garnered attention in the media
because of cyberbullying issues related to posts by some of its users.
The site has a lengthy disclaimer, which states in part, "The ask.fm
service allows for anonymous content which ask.fm does not monitor. You
agree to use the ask.fm service at your own risk and that ask.fm shall
have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable,
obscene or in poor taste."
Ask.fm is being pressured for more accountability,
and it appears as if the company is listening. In an open letter, the
company said, "We are committed to ensuring that our site is a safe
environment. We have implemented various measures over the past month to
continue to improve our user safety." Among those measures is a button
to report inappropriate content.
That being said, the site is still a mecca for
cyberbullying. And the fact that it's a Latvian-based site means U.S.
laws don't apply.
One of the problems with apps such as Ask.fm is that
kids can be on it without you even realizing it. It's not like a text
where you can check your cellphone bill to see who your kids are
texting. View some of the content on Ask.fm and you'll realize just how
scary it is to think of what your child can be exposed to without you
There are three significant issues with
Safety. The anonymity factor takes "stranger
danger" to a whole new level. Ask.fm does have a safety page that
offers practical guidelines on how to be safe while using their
service. User can also turn off anonymous questions. That being
said, a user's profile and content is still public.
Cyberbullying. Anonymity also makes
cyberbullying much easier.
Inappropriate content. There is a significant
amount of sexual content on Ask.fm. Again, anonymity makes it easy
to ask anything.
What can we do as parents?
Open up a dialogue. Encourage your child to stay
away from sites that promote this kind of anonymous interaction.
Remind children never to share personal information with someone
they don't know, such as allowing a program to access their
location, or any personal information that could potentially
identify them (such as hometown). Remind them that just because
someone sounds like a cool teenager doesn't mean they actually are.
Talk to your children about cyberbullying.
Discuss how anonymity can lead to bad behavior and cruel comments.
Review social networking tips, and set
guidelines for what's OK to post online and what's not. Be sure to
check privacy settings on any website they sign on to, particularly
for younger children.
Review your child's apps and contacts on their
cellphone. Don't recognize someone? Ask why they are on your child's
phone. You have a right and an obligation to know what they are
doing — particularly if you are paying for their cellphone!
Remind your children to think before they post.
Kindness counts. If they wouldn't say it to someone's face, don't
say it online. The Dignity for All Students Act and related New York
State laws make schools accountable for certain online student
behavior — especially harassment, discrimination and bullying — even
when it occurs off campus and outside of school hours. A child's
inappropriate cyber activity could have severe consequences for his
or her academic career if it creates a significant disruption within
Be aware of history. Check the computer's
browser history for information on sites your child is visiting.
There is no mechanism to prevent a child from saying they are over
the age of 13 when they are not. They are savvy enough to figure out
how to compute an age that makes them old enough to set up an
Get with the program. Check out the various
websites that are out there. Get an account for yourself and see
what your children can and can't do online.
Check the settings on your computer to ensure as
much as possible that your child doesn't have access to
inappropriate content. Make sure parental controls are set on the
computer your child uses, or they could get an education you're not
The organization Common Sense Media can help you
learn more about sites your child might visit. Common Sense Media is a
non-profit organization that advocates on child and family issues and
studies the effects that media and technology have on young users. The
group reviews books, movies, TV shows, video games, apps, music and
websites and rates them in terms of age-appropriate educational content,
messages/role models, violence, sex, profanity and more.
Note: This article was reprinted with permission
from Parent Today, a free e-newsletter and website available
to Schoharie Central Schools residents. Copyright 2014, Capital Region BOCES School
Communications Portfolio; All rights reserved. For more information or
permission to use, call 518-464-3960.