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One of the most difficult tasks a modern-day parent has is to teach their tweens and teens about online safety. Myspace and Facebook initially opened the doors to a whole new world of friends your child could interact with. The problem was how to keep them safe from the so-called "friends" who had the wrong intentions. Privacy controls became a hot topic of discussion among parents, and trying to stay on top of each latest revision to their kids' favorite social media sites was difficult. Now new sites seem to pop up weekly — with new challenges for parents. What's the latest twist in social media aimed at tweens and teens? Anonymous messaging.
Anonymous messaging — why?
Many parents don't understand why their tweens and teens would even be interested in social media sites with an anonymous aspect to them. Much like the so-called "slam books" of their parents' younger years, there is a certain mystique about being able to say what you want, without worrying about repercussions. But parents worry that adding another layer to the already intense world of social media sets their children up for mean-spirited comments and even cyberbullying.
Anonymous, with friends
On the website for the app Backchat, Daniel Singer, the 14-year-old founder, has this to say about his addition to anonymous social media. "Over the last decade, we began to text and share every thought, opinion and idea with limited engagement or thought through our phones. Backchat was built to create experiences and moments in time that you will share with friends, new and old, via anonymous messaging." After developing his very first app at the age of 12, he went on to develop Backchat with the help of his father. The website for Backchat touts that a level of anonymity adds excitement to conversations, which in turn helps you get closer to your friends. Backchat is banking on the fact that tweens and teens are eager for that next level of messaging — being anonymous.
Singer says that Backchat "allows your recipient to judge what you're saying before they judge who said it." Users connect with their friends through Facebook or Google +, without the other party knowing their identity. Want to figure out who your anonymous friend is? There are clues you can use to get to know your friends better — maybe even help you guess who they are. Backchat even has the option to make in-app purchases of additional clues.
Other anonymous sites
In addition to Backchat, here are a few other anonymous messaging sites that tweens and teens are into right now.
- Whisper touts that their app lets you share secrets, express yourself and meet new people. Users share an image with a message or comment in the form of a "secret" they are sharing. Other users can like a status with a heart or comment.
- Secret allows users to "speak freely" and to share their thoughts and feelings with friends without judgment. There are no names or profile pictures in Secret, and the focus is on the words and images being shared, similar to Whisper.
- Snapchat is a photo and video-sharing app that many parents have already heard about, mainly due to its being linked to "sexting" among teens. Snapchat users can choose how quickly their posts disappear — either from 1 to 10 seconds or for 24 hours as part of Snapchat Stories. While it seems less risky than sharing via text or instant message, teens need to remember that anyone can take a screen shot of a Snapchat posting and save it as an image. Forever.
- Kik was developed in 2009 by a group of students at the University of Waterloo, and is backed by major venture capitalists. Kik is a smartphone messenger with a built-in browser and reportedly over 100 million users.
- Ask.fm lets users ask each other questions, often anonymously. Ask.fm has received bad press in the past, when the site was linked to several suicides. They have recently taken stronger measures for policing online content, in addition to encouraging members to report or block any users who cause problems.
While your tweens and teens may use some — or all — of these apps, it is still up to you as a parent to monitor what your child is doing in cyberspace. Talk to them about social media on a regular basis, and make sure you are comfortable with what they are involved in online. These sites aren't right for everyone, and as the parent you get to make the decision on that issue.