I’ve advised my kids since they were babies: If you need to hide it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. That sentiment applies to the slew of mobile apps allowing users to post anonymous comments that can be good, bad, or hateful.
According to one a recent story in the Washington Post, one of those apps After School, continues to skyrocket in popularity with an estimated 2 million teen users nationwide.
The mobile app After School works much like Twitter or a chat board, only it’s 100% anonymous and breaks chat groups up by school. And another catch: You have to be a student to use it, which teens love since the parentals can’t hover over their feed like they do on Facebook.
The good news: With more and more parents, teachers, and even students complaining that the anonymous feature of the app encourages kids to bully and start rumors, After School released a new version of the app with enhanced safety features including strict age limits for racy content (17+), more monitoring, and automatic deletion of any bullying or self-harm content.
And while app creators call the app “therapeutic” and a place where they can speak their minds without fear of judgment or embarrassment, this specific app can still be traced to several school violence threats. You can learn more about the After School app in this excellent video from Safe Smart Social (we loved the tip on how parents can get into the student-only app to explore, brilliant!).
We wanted to give you a wrap-up of mobile apps similar to After School since your child will likely have some extra time on his or her hands over Holiday break. In the blue box, are just a few of the more popular anonymous apps to keep an eye out for on your child’s phone.
Next steps for families:
- Always check your child’s phone for suspicious apps. Know what the anonymous mobile apps look like (see right).
- If your child happens to have a dangerous app installed, ask her what she likes about it and if she sees any potential danger in using the app. This is will help you rate your child’s understanding of safety. Don’t interrupt her — the more she talks, the more you learn. When she is finished sharing her rationale, discuss the pros and cons of the app. Depending on your child’s age, maturity, and intent with the app, discuss the pros and cons of the app. If together, you decide to let her use it, teach her how to report abusive behavior (usually a ‘report’ or ‘contact’ button within each app). You may decide she needs to delete the app altogether.
- Don’t forget to check for Vault Apps. Vault apps, as we’ve discussed in prior posts, look like any other fun app but are password protected. They might look like a music or gaming app or even a calculator. Kids use Vault Apps to hide photos, chats, or any content they don’t want parents to see.
- Get filtering software (parental controls) on your home PCs and your kids’ phones.
- Teach your child not to ask for trouble online. For instance, posting a selfie and asking others to rate your looks, your new haircut, or a new outfit, may open the door to some comments that can’t cause more harm than good.
- Remember, just because an app is not making headlines does not mean it’s not dangerous. Monitoring all of your kids’ apps, chat rooms, and networks are important to her safety.
- Remind your child that the word “anonymous” isn’t. If a user is abusive or threatening, law enforcement officials can track any account down if necessary. So a comment she (or a friend) post or even respond to can be tracked.
- Use a family account for app downloads and do not share the password with your kids so that they have to tell you what they are downloading.
- Bring up the names of these apps during dinner conversation. That way, your child will know you are not in the dark when it comes to technology and the way their age group may connect.
- Share this article with another parent. You’d be surprised how a little information can go a long way toward safety online for families.
It’s important to get in the game online and stay in the game. Know what’s happening with your kids, and their alternate universe (which they likely prefer to yours). Get involved simply because you love your child, not because you feel duty-bound to protect her (because you can’t).
Stick with what’s in your power to do—and that is to raise the kind of kid who is prepared to handle any situation online that comes his way (without having to create an alias).
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family.
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