Sometimes, doing things anonymously is great. Leaving cookies on a doorstep, or mowing someone’s lawn without them knowing can leave you and your neighbor with warm fuzzies.
But in today’s high-tech world, anonymity is dangerous.
We can now leave vicious comments on news stories or post other messages online without anyone ever knowing we are the ones behind the venom. This cloak of anonymity is most harmful in the world of lockers, gym class and mascots that our kids navigate every day.
New apps pop up weekly allowing students to anonymously pose questions like, “who is the ugliest girl in school?” No one knows who posts the question. No one knows who is giving the answers.
How can this lead to anything good?
Sometimes the question is more innocent, like, “who is the cutest couple?” But this inevitably leads to discussion of why a pair is not a cute couple and .., well, you get where I’m going.
But there's an even scarier trend that I'm noticing. Sometimes friends, either because of jealousy or pure mean bones, invite other kids to cyber-bully one another. I’ve seen several instances of someone throwing up a fake Instagram account of someone, only to post unflattering pictures of that person. This even happened to a teacher where my kids go to school.
Why? For a cheap laugh? To make your perfect pictures seem even more flawless? When kids create these kinds of accounts, they make things bad. When other kids participate, view and share these kinds of accounts, they make it worse.
So how do we make sure our kids are not contributing to this disturbing trend? Having an open, honest relationship with your children is always the best-case scenario. And even if they never open their mouths, parents should be having weekly conversations with their kids about all media and what’s appropriate behavior online.
But, let’s face it: Not every teenager is the type who will sit on the bed while you braid her hair and have a deep conversation about cyberbullying. That’s why I am also a big fan of snooping.
There is no way we can avoid social media as parents in today’s world. We should be on every single app and social media platform where our kids have profiles. Follow them and their friends. It’s a great way to keep tabs on the vibe in their peer groups.
Do not like and comment on all their posts. They will quickly tire of you and create a different account that you don’t know about. If you are just an observer, it is likely that they will forget you even follow them at all.
It’s basically the techie version of my sneaky reason behind offering to drive my kids and their friends everywhere at any time. It’s a trick I learned from my sister-in-law, whose kids are about 10 years older than mine. When you are the chauffeur, you can sit in the driver’s seat as a silent observer. The kids forget you’re there and gab away, giving you all sorts of insights into their lives and personalities that you would get no other way. By acting similarly on social media, you gain a unique perspective into your kids’ relationships with others, and — more importantly — how they feel about themselves.
But these anonymous apps throw a kink into all of this because you have no idea who is posting. That’s why I recommend staying clear of them, period. Make sure your kids steer clear as well, and that they know why the anonymity is so dangerous.
It’s time for every one of us to own our words. That goes for us too, parents. If we don’t feel comfortable attaching our name to our online comments, step away from the laptop. We as parents have to do as we say. If you just can’t resist the urge to do do something anonymously, remember you can drop off cookies on my doorstep anytime.
Gadget check: Here are just a few of the many apps that allow anonymous posting. Check for them on your kids’ gadgets, talk to them about it and delete!
Whisper — Confession app. Kids are using it to post rude comments about others.
Ask.fm — Kids often ask negative questions targeting each other.
Yik Yak — Posts go to the nearest 500 users. Having problems with sexually explicit content.
After School — Students join by scanning school ID, but are then anonymous.
Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband, and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Linkedin.