Whisper App is Enabling Dangerous Teen Behavior

Whisperwhisper-app-home is an anonymous, GPS enabled app that has been rising in popularity since its launch in 2012. It hasn’t blown up like Snapchat or Instagram, but it is steadily growing its user base, particularly among teens and millennials.

We wrote in January about a glaring challenge for parents who are interested in monitoring their teen on Whisper. Unless you have your teen’s phone in your hand, logged in, you will not even be able to figure out which user is your child, much less monitor posts and interactions.

To see what your teen has been up to on Whisper, you’ll need to access his or her phone (do you know the home screen password?), open the Whisper app, click on the Activity tab and enter the PIN number (yes, you need that too). We understand that it’s a lot of work and you’ll need your teen’s cooperation…

The biggest problem with Whisper isn’t cyberbullying, as is the case with many other anonymous platforms. Nor is the problem that many of the user posts are confessions. A teen saying, “I have a crush on my lab partner,” or “I got into Stanford and I really don’t want to go” isn’t much of a problem at all.

The problem as we see it that the user community is becoming a support group for young users either into self-harm, secretly living a life of destructive behavior, or both.

whisper-examplesThe search function on Whisper works well, and a user searching for hashtags such as #thinspo (inspiration for eating disorder sufferers), #proana (pro anorexia), #promia (pro bulimia), #cutting (self mutilation), or posts related to suicide or instagram-warningsubstance abuse will find plenty of posts, supportive users and peers to connect with.

It is worth noting that Whisper falls far short of another prominent app, Instagram, in keeping kids safe and mentally healthy. For example, on Instagram if you search for #thinspo, a warning message pops up (pictured at right) including a link to resources for support of eating disorder sufferers. Whisper offers no such warnings or support.

It is our opinion that Whisper should be much more proactive in offering a safer user experience in the cases where young people stumble across harmful behaviors, and more resources for those who are currently suffering.

As is the case with a lot of problematic teen internet use, the solution lies in communication between parents and kids. Given how Whisper works, open communication is absolutely the first line of defense, or first step in charting a better course of behavior.

If someone from Whisper reads this and would like to offer comment, we’re all ears.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Your Teen’s Online Profile Can Be an Advantage

We talk a lot about the risks of having a negative online image when it comes time to apply for college or look for a job. If, and that’s a big if, someone decides to Google you before offering you that thing that you want, whether it’s a scholarship, a spot in a prestigious freshman class, or a first job, your eligibility can be decided in a heartbeat if someone in power sees something that they don’t love about you.

How real is the risk? Will that person in power Google you?

interviewWe believe the real numbers are higher, but there’s no need to speculate. It is a fact that close to 100% of colleges or employers could Google you before offering you a position. That is worth noting.

With the above being said, it is a great idea to watch out for the risks, but why stop there? We encourage teens to not only make sure that there is nothing negative about them online, but to take it one step further and make sure they portray a positive image online – one that will potentially separate them from much of the rest of the field.

Here’s how to look like the ideal candidate:

Ego surf – Ego surfing, or Googling yourself, used to be something people did on a whim to see whether there is anything online that shows up. Now, there is probably a lot that shows up, especially if you have a name that is uncommon. Log out of your Google accounts and search for yourself – you’ll see what other people would see. How does it look?

Social media privacy settings – Are all your social media accounts public? If so, you need to make sure that there is nothing negative, and by that we mean things that someone who doesn’t know you could perceive as negative. If all your accounts are private, you might look like you’re hiding something, but probably not – that’s where LinkedIn comes in.

LinkedIn – In case you missed it, last year the social network for professionals welcomed high school students with open arms. Sure, most high school students don’t have much of a resume or work history, but a clean looking LinkedIn profile with your education details and career aspirations will send a positive message to just about anyone. Bonus: LinkedIn profiles rank high, and quickly, in search results.

Specialize – If you’re applying to a specialized program at a college, or for a real job, it helps if something about your online profile indicates that you really are interested in that field. Feel free to take a little bit of license here – if you’re applying for it, you’re interested. Why not say it online?

Spelling and typos – Many teens tend to be sloppy when posting online, and this is a quick turn-off for some people in high places. Try to keep anything you write on a public forum as error-free as possible.

Community efforts – If you have volunteered, or coached youth sports, or sing in the church choir, your friends may not want to hear about it online, but colleges or employers probably will. Try to work your positive extracurricular activities into your online persona.

Your online profile tells a story, even if most people don’t take the time to see what the story is. In the event that they do, it is within your power to tell them the story you want them to hear. Here’s a link to a very positive one.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Teens, The Prom and Social Media – Avoid the Mistakes

I’m sure most parents will agree that it’s important to talk to your teens about keeping it clean and appropriate on social media, but it’s tough to actually make the time to do it – lives are busy and it seems like we rarely slow down for long enough to actually have a conversation. One thing that many teens are eager to talk about at this time of year is their upcoming prom. It’s a great idea for parents to make time in that conversation to ensure that social media isn’t the wild card that ends up making the prom memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Currently, there are over 6 million photos on Instagram alone with the hashtag #prom. No doubt most of them are fine, but each one could cause a problem if posted carelessly, either leading up to or at the prom. Here are some things to remember, and discuss with your teen, that will help him or her avoid some unfortunate pitfalls:

Be nice – Prom is a big night and emotions run high. Your friends will be keyed up, and some of them will be nervous. Make sure those posts and pictures on Instagram and Snapchat talk about the positive aspects of the night, and aren’t jabs against someone else. Some semi-friendly online sparring can blow up quickly.

If you’re unsure of your outfit, don’t take to social media to test it out – It seems like more and more of the pre-prom routine is playing out on Facebook or Instagram. If you are unsure about your dress (or your date, or your hair) as tempting as it might seem to test it out online before the big night, don’t. Rather than asking your 500 Facebook friends or Twitter followers how that dress looks, just ask a couple of close friends in person and avoid the potential embarrassment.

Don’t post anything that you might regret – Actually, don’t do anything you might regret, but if you do, don’t post it online – especially pictures, which are worth a thousand words. Prom night can get a little crazy so think twice before your post anything.

Set accounts to private – This is a perfect time to check your accounts and see whether you’re happy with your privacy settings. It will serve as a reminder of who exactly will see what you do post. This might seems like a long shot, but if you’re being followed on Twitter by the admissions department of that college you’d like to get into, you need to be extra careful.

Purge your accounts of “friends” who may share or repost your stuff – The old saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is terrible advice when it comes to teens and social media. Even if your accounts are set to private, your content can be reposted and made public by one of your “friends” with a public account.

Your secret account might not always be secret – If you have a social media account where you use a pseudonym, it’s possible that nobody knows (yet) that it’s really you. That doesn’t mean that others can’t figure out that it’s you, just that they haven’t yet. If you post something embarrassing or controversial using your prom’s hashtag (e.g. #ValleyHighProm), people might want to start digging into your identity.

Beware of pictures that others are taking – Even if you keep your own pictures clean on prom night, remember that every single person there has a camera and will be taking pictures. Make sure that you don’t show in a regrettable picture that is taken and posted by someone else.

The bottom line is that prom night should be a special experience. Part of the secret to keeping it that way is avoiding a social media mistake that becomes a public embarrassment.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Is Your Teen A Facebook Friend Collector?

facebook logo thumbLet’s say you’ve been the perfect digital parent for your teen. You’ve done your research online, and have had a first class blueprint for safe online behavior since you gave her that first email address. When it comes to Facebook, you’re proud to have accomplished the following:

  • She didn’t get a Facebook account until she turned 13
  • Her account has been set to “private” since she signed up
  • You have been her Facebook “friend” since day one
  • She does not post personally identifying information
  • She does not post too many personal photos, and of course, nothing too revealing
  • She doesn’t “check in”, or do anything else to reveal her exact location
  • She only posts things that make her look like a fine, upstanding young lady

Congratulations on a job well done. You’ve done all the right things. Except for maybe one thing.

Source: Pew Internet Research
Source: Pew Internet Research

Have you looked at how many friends she has? If it’s a big number, there may be some things about what she is doing online that require your attention.

By a big number, we mean any number that is much greater than the number of real world friends she has. According to Pew Internet Research, most teen Facebook users have too many Facebook friends – 300 on average, and 20% have more than 600. That’s a problem, or could be.

Why? Let’s say your daughter is a Facebook Friend Collector, and fits into the 600+ category. Since there is no way she knows 600 people in real life, you might want to ask her why. If she and her friends are treating their online life as if it’s a popularity contest, that’s not too healthy. Life doesn’t work that way. Popularity is a common goal for teens, but until now, hasn’t really been measurable. Now it can become a game, and an area of too much focus, aided by social networks. It’s important that your teen interact with her friends positively on Facebook and in person. Keep an eye on your teen’s friend list. There may be no issue, especially without any other red flags, but it is possible she may be doing other riskier things online to gain popularity. Just be aware.

Remember your teen’s “friends” have access to her. If your daughter’s account is private, all of those friends have access to her posts, and a network of 600 people is absolutely not private. In addition, even if you are Facebook friends with her, you don’t know what she is sending/receiving via private message. Those people who are her friends can message her privately, and you’ll never see it.

The bottom line is that if your daughter is cyberbullied or some creep tries to contact her via Facebook, it probably won’t be one of her close friends.

Facebook would like to think that they have changed the definition of “friend”, but they haven’t. The closer your teen’s friend group online resembles her friends and family in real life, the safer she will be.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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