You've never heard of Ask.fm? I guarantee your teen has.
So what is ask.fm? Ask.fm is the newest platform that teens are using to have fun, interact, ask silly questions, and also bully other children until they commit suicide.
Hannah Smith was the victim of bullying from the constant stream of questions and statements from her classmates using ask.fm. Her tragic suicide in August of 2013 raises the question of what we're teaching our children, both about creating a space where they feel like they can share what's happening in their lives, and how we treat each other.
She's hardly the only child being bullied using ask.fm, among other social platforms. Just in my backyard, a football coach suspended his entire football team after reports surfaced of unspecified members of the team bullying another student using ask.fm.
Ask.fm makes it easy because you can send anonymous messages to any other user of the site. You can imagine the thrill of having a note passed to you in class from a secret admirer, the appeal of ask.fm is that anyone could ask or send a message to anyone else. It's an even more appealing lure to teenagers, who put weight behind their peers' opinions, or want to communicate anonymously.
Anything that could be used in an innocent way can also turn ugly: teens get sent messages telling them to go on a diet, change themselves, told they're ugly, and even to kill themselves. All mean things that teens may have always said to each other, but instead of seeing the consequences and dealing with the fall out, it can be impossible to trace. Developing empathy is difficult when terrible actions are conducted online instead of in person.
My friends with teenagers are reporting that terrible, scary, mean, rotten, explicit, and cruel things are being sent to children through the site, mostly from their peers.
One friend's child experienced horrible name-calling and bullying through ask.fm. So what did this mom do? She screen-shot all their pages on ask.fm and emailed them to the school counselor and principal. See, here's the thing, sometimes what kids are doing is actually illegal. The parents of the children had no idea what their kids were saying, let alone that they were using ask.fm, or that their kids could get in serious legal hot water.
It's like Louis CK said,
"These things are toxic, especially for kids...they aren't building empathy. Kids are mean because they're trying it out. They look at a kid and say, "You're fat" and then they see the kid's face scrunch up and they go, "Ooh, it doesn't feel good to make a person do that." They have to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write [online], "You're fat," they just go, "Mmm, that was fun, I liked that.""
Of course, ask.fm isn't the only technology that kids are using to be cruel. What do you expect teenagers to do when you're not paying attention to their social media use? They're using ask.fm, and other platforms, that make it easy to interact in inappropriate ways; they're doing damage to themselves and to others along the way.
Your first steps:
- Know what your kids are using. Monitor their phones and computer use. Don't assume they're OK.
- Ask your kids if they are on ask.fm. Look at what they're doing and what they're seeing.
- Don't assume that because your kids' phones don't have internet or data access they can't get to specific apps or platforms.There are a lot of work arounds.
- Explain what cyberbullying is and how you can avoid it, not engage in it, stop it.
- Clarify that certain online behaviors can be illegal and they can be in trouble with the law for participating (just like they would be in trouble for pranks, stealing, and other real-life poor decisions.)
- Online means forever. Example: your SnapChats can be saved as a screen shot, and they're saved on the servers at SnapChat. Online can mean forever.
- Find out what your school's policy is on ask.fm or other platforms. Many schools are already aware of ask.fm and are managing situations arising from its abuse.
- Take social media breaks. Have your kids step away for a while and get some perspective.
You're the one in charge of your kid's online life. Time to step up your game and get involved.