In elementary school, I remember being tapped on the shoulder and handed a note. The note had my name on it and had been passed anonymously from someone in the room. Opening it up it read something like this: “Do you like A) Christina, B) Sally or C) Jen?” I was to circle who I liked and then send the note back.
As I moved into middle and high school, the same style of anonymous questions continued. But now they were often asked by a peer who had been sent on a secret mission to figure out who I liked for their friend.
I remember two distinct feelings during these situations. First I would usually blush, get embarrassed and a little giddy inside thinking that someone may like me more than just as a friend. My second feeling was that of uncertainty and fear. “What if I circled a name and it was not the person who sent the note? Would they be upset? Would they tell the person whose name I circled that I liked them?”
These experiences, although somewhat anxiety ridden, felt more like a childish game than anything else.
Times have changed since I was young. Youth’s ability to utilize technology and social networking sites causes these types of encounters to be more secretive (as far as who is asking the questions) and more public (who can see the questions and answers) through apps and websites.
A few years back, the website Formspring (now going by Spring.me) was all over the news. It is a website popular with teens that allowed users to ask each other anonymous questions. It quickly got on the radar of all parents and youth workers because of the harassment that was occurring on the site.
Now a new website and popular app called Ask.fm is gaining popularity with teens for the same reason. It allows users the ability to ask anonymous questions of each other. If this was available when I was a teen, I am sure I would have received the questions from those hand written notes in this advanced format.
Ask.fm is a question platform site and app that is highly integrated with Social Media where users can pose questions anonymously to other users through the site or on other social networks. Apps like this can be great fun with questions like, “What movies have you seen lately?” or “What did you do this summer?”
Ask.Fm allows teens to express their thoughts or share information without having to share who they are. This allows them the opportunity to ask questions without embarrassment or consequence; a potentially dangerous combination for teens.
When the site is abused it can lead to intentional harm and embarrassment to others. Based off of what I have heard from teens, bulling incidents, harassing and creating embarrassment for others is widespread.
It is also important to note that there are not many privacy settings on Ask.fm. Meaning, anyone can see what questions are being posed and how they are being answered; even if you are not a user of the site.
Parent and Youth Worker Tips:
Engage your teen in a conversation about what sites they are using and how they and other teens use them. Ask them if they have used Ask.fm and what type of questions they see their peers asking and answering.
Work with your teen to set up guidelines for their behavior online. Focus on what they will do if they encounter a situation that upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Talk about what respecting others looks like online and what you expect from them. It is important to note that engaging your teen in coming up with these guideline will empower them to take ownership of their behavior and consequences. Every teen is different and you need to set guidelines based on your teen.
Discuss what the consequences would be if they violate your agreement. Teens feel that if they alert an adult to something that occurs online, even if they did not do it, they will have their internet or technology privileges taken away. And that is the last thing they want. Be clear that reporting something to you will not get them in trouble.
Please share this with your co-workers, fellow parents and teachers. As we begin the school year I see the potential for drama created by this app to spill over into our schools and after school programs. There has already been at least one teen suicide linked to harassment that occurred on this site and we do not want any more. .
Dave’s Blogs can be found at http://daverozman.com/ He has for the last 10 years been working for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (5 as Teen Director at a local Club and the last 5 for the National Organization focusing on teens).