The Blame Game: Taking the lead in talking to kids about apps
Would you be surprised to learn there’s an app that has forced schools in California and Oregon into lock down? In our ongoing efforts to keep parents (and ourselves) informed we recently discovered Burnbook, one of the latest apps providing an avenue for cyberbullying. This app,
[membership level=”0″]Want to read more? Join today![/membership]
[membership]like its predecessors (Whisper and Ask.fm) permits users (17 years and older) to join communities and communicate anonymously. Often times these communities are organized by school or town. Anonymous threats posted have actually undermined the security of these communities. Most critics would not post examples from the app because the comments were too salacious or vulgar.
My initial reaction to this discovery was to blame the developers for creating a vehicle that permits users to bully and threaten others. However, after taking a deep breath, I began to wonder, should I really be blaming the app developers. I’d like to believe they did not intend to create something so malicious.
So who do we blame? The bullies who send the messages? This makes logical sense, as they are the individuals who are spewing the hateful, hurtful messages specifically intended to harm the focus of their vile attention. However, users range from early middle schoolers to college students. While age does not absolve a cyberbully of responsibility, it reminds me that we, as parents are the primary educators in our children’s lives and that we must teach them empathy and appropriate social interaction. While we focus on teaching our children daily life skills: how to set the table, brush their teeth and drive a car safely; we are often failing to teach them the consequences of things like cyberbullying. In fact, parents themselves may not fully understand the true consequences of cyberbullying.
Bullying is not a new issue; however, the methods of bullying have changed significantly in the last decade. Bullying used to almost exclusively entail face-to-face interaction. Adolescents and young adults who engaged in this kind of face-to face bullying on a consistent basis typically showed no remorse or empathy for others. While all kids may harbor bullying thoughts, in the past it was only the select few who acted on those thoughts.
Old-fashioned forms of bullying still exist, but the anonymity of apps such as Burnbook, Whisper and Ask.fm now readily allow individuals to send hateful messages. We know adolescents are typically impulsive, so it’s not surprising that they send bullying messages without considering the ramifications of their actions. A quick comment or post is easy to type and forget about, whereas face-to-face bullying requires conscientious action before and after the event. To an adolescent, cyberbullying is easier than traditional bullying because it’s seemingly anonymous and messages can be sent without detection.
As we learn more and more about the apps available and how kids are using them, it is becoming increasingly clear that parents need to educate their children about the potential threats associated with these apps. This also means that parents need to stay up to date on the most popular apps and monitor their children’s usage.
If parents discover their children using age inappropriate or distasteful apps, the first step is to initiate a frank discussion about how they’re using the app and if they should continue to have access to it. This conversation will vary based on the age, personality and maturity level of the child.
To help prevent or address cyberbullying, here are some tips on how to handle these issues with your children:
- Activate parental controls on your child’s devices.
- Establish a rule where parents must approve every app the child downloads.
- Regularly check your child’s devices for new apps and keep in mind, children are very knowledgeable about how to get around parental controls.
- Try to stay knowledgeable on the latest apps.
- If you find articles about apps used for cyberbullying and other unsavory behavior, have a frank discussion with your child about what you learned.
- Read the articles together (depending on the child’s age and maturity) and discuss their thoughts and feelings about the information.
- If they have the app in question, make a joint decision on whether it should be kept or deleted.
- Discuss what your child would or should do if they witness cyberbullying online.
- Ask if they have been a victim or ever engaged in cyberbullying.
The Technology Wellness Center (TWC) encourages parents to have frequent discussions with their children about appropriate and inappropriate technology usage. While it is a parent’s responsibility to initiate the conversation, we recommend that parents try to gently guide the child in leading the discussion.
TWC does not advocate simply stripping a child of an app without discussion. Children and parents need to use the opportunity to have thoughtful discussions about the pros and cons of these apps to help children learn to navigate this new social world. The objective here is to not only protect them, but to also prepare them to make more thoughtful and well-reasoned decisions when they become independent adults.[/membership]