Understanding The Social Networks Your Students Are On

Dear Alison,

I am finding it increasingly more difficult to keep up with monitoring my daughter in regards to her social networking.  My daughter has had issues in the past with fighting and arguments through text messaging and online posts.  I know about Facebook and believe my daughter has a twitter, but I keep hearing of other sites that I am unfamiliar with.  Considering all of the tragedy you hear of in the news regarding cyber bullying, I am concerned about her safety and well-being.  How realistic is it for me to monitor my daughter’s social networking and can you shed some light on other popular sites my daughter may be accessing?

-Concerned Computer Mom-


Dear Concerned Computer Mom,

Informing oneself about the different avenues of Social Networking has become an important part of parenting. It can also help to start conversations between you and your children, as well as increase communication with one another.  Social Networking is an important part of our current culture, and it is important to stay on top of what is trending as well as what sites your child may be on.  Monitoring our kids’ every move is not easy, as they seem to always be ahead of us regarding what is out there.  Opening up conversations about current sites can be a helpful way to understand what sites your child is utilizing.  Looking into the sites that you hear about is a good idea, so that you can be informed.   Kids want to feel they are trusted; therefore asking questions in a non-judgmental way will help to gain their trust to confide in you what they are doing online.

I have attached an article posted by CBS news, which discusses popular Social Networking forums.

-Alison Hipscher, LCSW-


Where the kids are: Social networks parents may not know about

Devin Coldewey, NBC News

You know your kid is on Facebook, because no kid can be without it these days, and possibly Twitter as well. But following the September death of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, and several other tragedies in which Internet bullying was implicated, other, less well known services and websites used by teens are now under scrutiny. Here are a few of the sites and services popular among the middle– and high– school crowd; they’re not inherently risky or harmful, but as is often the case online, they are open to abuse by bullies, stalkers and other unsavory types.


Ask.fm is a site where you sign up with a basic profile and picture, and then answer questions posed to you by other users, both friends and strangers. While “Isn’t social studies class the worst?” and “Who do you have a crush on?” are common threads, darker and more sexual questions show up as well. Ask.fm has been in the news lately after several young girls, members of the site, committed suicide after being harassed both online and offline.


Tumblr may be thought of as a lightweight blogging platform, but its real allure is that it’s also a loosely organized social network, teeming with young people liking one another’s posts, commenting back and forth and fielding questions from strangers. Blogs on Tumblr can be funny, helpful and creative, but they’re also uncensored—and often pornographic. Kids can play in one part without encountering the other, but it’s all part of the same big ecosystem.


Kik, Voxer and WhatsApp are all variations on the same theme: free phone-to-phone messaging that’s private, cross-platform, and lets you attach pictures and videos, all without counting towards SMS counts or minutes—or even showing up as anything more than generic data usage on a family phone bill. You don’t even have to attach a phone number; like the instant messengers of old, all you need is a user name.

These apps are a great way for BFFS to chat back and forth and share pictures. But users are promiscuous with their usernames, posting them publicly and looking for anonymous chatters: “UK 14 year old boys follow me pls,” reads one review on Google Play, followed by a name; “I’m a 16 year old Male and Hispanic <3 Kik me (Only girls) ages 14-19 promise you won’t regret it” reads another. It’s not so far off from the day s of AOL chat rooms and “ASL?” (age/sex/location), but parents should definitely be wary, as those were comparatively innocent times online.


Snapchat has gained popularity (and notoriety) as an app that lets you send pictures to friends which disappear after a set amount of time. The erasure is not foolproof, so incriminating pics can always be captured. Millions use it every day to send fun pictures, show friends what they’re doing, and yes, do a little sexting if they trust the person on the other end. Everyone’s on Snapchat because it’s fun and easy—but it’s worth noting that the app can be set to receive pics from strangers, with predictable results.


Instagram is another well-known app that it seems everyone is on (though being bought by Facebook didn’t improve its cachet). Though it is a picture posting forum, the level of social engagement it provides, like Tumblr, may surprise those who haven’t used it. Who follows who, who liked what, who faked #nofilter, it’s definitely fertile ground for gossip. And picture feeds full of selfies and favorite places may be open for the public to view, by oversight or on purpose—parents will have to decide whether it’s creepy or innocuous.


Pheed is the latest thing to come along, merging the mixed-media feed of Tumblr with the instantaneous sharing of Kik and video chatting. Users can put statuses, photos, videos, audio and even live broadcasts—and you can even charge for people to access your “pheed,” if you think they’ll pay. Teens have jumped onto it, following the “pheeds” of celebrities, DJs and friends.


A kid may be using one, some, or all of these apps. It’s important to remember that they’re not intrinsically bad in any way. But the potential for abuse is always there, especially when kids have a public-facing profile that can be viewed and contacted by anyone on the Internet. Being aware of the apps and services your kids are using—even if they’d rather you didn’t know—is an increasingly important part of smart parenting.