A Parent's Guide to Apps with Bullying Risk

Bullying risk
  1. Understanding Bullying Risk in Mobile Apps
    • Bullying has been a hot-button topic for years now. Parents, teachers, and kids, alike, have been trying to find ways to improve awareness and stop bullying before it starts. At the same time, however, as technology has progressed, it has become easier to bully and harass kids and teens anonymously.
  2. How Mobile Technology Makes Bullying Easier
    • When most adults think of bullying, they think of physical and/or emotional intimidation that occurs in person and usually at school. However, for kids today, bullying can be a 24-hour-a-day problem, and it can happen whenever they pick up a phone, tablet, or laptop.
    • Cyber bullying first became apparent in the early 2000s in chat rooms and on early social networks like Myspace. In those days, though, the person doing the bullying had little in the way of anonymity. Bullies generally picked on kids in their own schools, and kids being bullied could block their bullies from posting on their social pages or contacting them in chats. Again, that’s not necessarily the case with newer technology and some of the apps available for kids and teens today.
    • Unfortunately, over the years, cyber bullying has taken on a number of different forms and has become a much greater problem. Just a few of the ways that bullies torture their victims online and through mobile apps today include:
    • Anonymous posting – Bullies go on apps with either no username or a fake username and either publicly post or directly message inappropriate content. Common platforms for this have included ask.fm, Kik, Yik Yak and others. Services that allow anonymous posting of messages that can be seen by anyone in the same area as the user have been very commonly used in bullying.
    • Shaming – Bullies will go to a victim’s Facebook, Instagram, or other social media page and take screen shots of their pictures. Then they’ll repost them to another app or social site with shaming and/or ridiculing captions.
    • “Todding” – Named for Amanda Todd, the Canadian teen who committed suicide because of cyber bullying, “Todding” is an especially dangerous and cruel form of bullying. Todding involves relentless online bullying, including hurtful messages, shaming images, and more. In some cases, the bullying doesn’t even stop after the victim commits suicide, as the bullies will then set up a fake memorial page or profile to continue making fun of the victim.
    • Catfishing – In this practice, a bully will create a false persona and befriend the victim online. They may even pursue a romantic relationship with the victim, using this fake persona. The entire purpose of the act, though, is to shame the victim when the prank is done.
    • SWAT-ing – This kind of online bullying involves attempting to fool the police to raid a victim’s home. SWAT-ing started as an anonymous prank that hackers and others would pull on celebrities and other high-profile victims, but it has recently become more popular with teens and poses a very serious risk to victims and their families.
    • There are numerous other forms of cyber bullying, but these are the most prevalent, and they benefit the most from anonymity and the reach that a lot of the latest mobile apps have. Bullies no longer have to wait for their victims in locker rooms or outside of the schoolyard. They can now torment other kids and teens whenever they like, and some apps make it very easy for them to do so without any repercussions.
    • Specifically, if an app promotes anonymity by allowing users to make up any name they like and post whatever picture they want to their profile, then bullies can hide behind their usernames and pictures while they type and post hurtful content about anyone they like. While anonymous apps may help teens and kids feel more free to be themselves and to express their thoughts and emotions, they should also be aware that anonymity doesn’t just protect their own identities.
    • Bullying and Developmental Issues
    • According to the American Psychological Association, bullying increases kids’ likelihood to avoid school, and children and teens who are bullied are more likely to drop out entirely. Even if they do not give up on school, bullied kids generally have lower academic performance, decreased self-esteem, and higher incidences of depression and anxiety. And this is just in the near term.
    • According to a recent study, the risk of mental health issues in children in the US who were bullied was nearly 4 times that of children who were abused. In the UK, children who were bullied were found to be 60% more likely to have mental health issues than those were abused physically, emotionally or even sexually.
    • And, as has been demonstrated in cases like Amanda Todd’s, teens who are bullied are more likely to attempt suicide, as well. All of this is cause for alarm for a lot of parents, but how can you monitor everything that’s said to or about your child online or on an app? You can't. But there are things you can do.
    • What You Can Do
    • First of all, find out about the apps your kids are using. You should check their phones every day to see what apps they have and then look them up in our free directory and find out about each app’s bullying risk. We track more than 200,000 apps that are inappropriate for children of different ages for various reasons, but we focus on the most developmentally damaging ones including those with bullying risk.
    • Then you can talk to your kids about the potential dangers of apps that promote anonymous pictures, posts, and messages or have other bullying mechanics. You may also need to prohibit the use of certain apps, but once you've found them in our directory, you'll be able to explain why the app is dangerous. Some apps will seem safe but may have bullies lurking around on them or make it easy for children to bully and shame one another, even just for a few moments. It might also be helpful to do an exercise where you send each other text messages and say the same things looking into each other's eyes to show how much easier it can be to say things in text than to say them in person.
    • If you talk to your kids about cyber bullying and bullying risk on these apps, you can encourage them to talk to you if they ever feel victimized by a bully online or in the classroom. Then you can decide together what to do next. The answer may be to change your child’s privacy settings or to delete the app entirely. With some apps, though, it’s better to know the bullying risk from the outset and avoid trouble entirely. That's why we build SaferKid. Because an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.