On most social media sites, gaming platforms, communication apps and internet forums, users can opt to have any user name, or “handle”, that they choose. For example, on Facebook, most people use their real name (and it has to be “a name”, as in first name, last name), but on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and most forums and online gaming networks, a user named Joe Smith is as likely to be named “AngryPirate” as he is some version of “Joe Smith”. If your teen is using a pseudonym on any given social network or app, you should ask her why.
We’re not saying that using a pseudonym is wrong; we’re saying that getting to the bottom of why your teen chooses a name other than her own when online is a great way to kick start a conversation about what your kid is doing online.
There are a number of reasons why pseudonyms are used. Some of them can be suspect, and some are pretty straightforward and not at all unsavory:
Cyberbullying – If your teen has been accused of cyberbullying, or is inclined to do it and wants to stay out of trouble, she might use a pseudonym. She probably won’t admit it initially, but a little prodding might produce some answers.
Other inappropriate behavior – The reason might be that she tends to use racy or inappropriate language, post outlandish opinions in order to get a response (trolling), or associate with an online group whose interests are suspect or unpopular.
Avoiding bullying – Most kids witness some form of cyberbullying on a weekly basis. If your teen uses a social network or app anonymously, either because she has been bullied in the past, or wants to avoid it in the first place, that’s totally fine. If she was bullied in the past and this is the first time you’ve heard about it, now is a great time for a deeper discussion.
Stalking – Your teen might be using an account to stalk or spy on another teen. This could be a precursor to something worse so feel free to discuss it.
Humor – It could just be an inside joke among friends, or something that your teen finds funny or ironic.
Everybody does it – On most gaming networks and websites like Reddit, almost nobody uses their real name. Since that is the standard, it’s fine for your teen too, as long as behavior is appropriate.
Innocent desire to be anonymous – This is pretty broad, but for a number of reasons, there are people who wish to engage online, harmlessly, and not be tied to their real identity. These people tend to do more listening than talking. This is also fine as long as no lines are crossed.
In our opinion, any reason to talk to your teen about what she is doing online is a good one. Get involved, guide good behavior and everyone should sleep better at night.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.