Yik Yak – What Parents Need to Know

XP1PspM3There is an app that is has been growing in popularity among teens that parents need to be aware of called Yik Yak. In this post I want to share a few things parents need to know about this app.

How Does this App Work
Yik Yak is very much like Twitter but with some unique differences. On Yik Yak everything is anonymous. That is the big catch with this app. Users post what is called a “Yak.” A “Yak” must be 200 characters or shorter. Once a user post a “Yak” it is posted on a live stream. The other big catch with this app is that is location based. So the live stream of “Yaks” is made up of only users within a 10 miles radius of where you are. Users have the ability to reply to “Yaks” as well as “upvote” (like) or “downvote” (dislike) them. The two big things to remember about this app is that everything is anonymous and is location based.

Some Negative Things to Be Aware Of
There are a few negative things about this app parents need to be aware of. First, sexually explicit content is common on this app. For an example, when I downloaded this app and opened it up, three out of the first six “Yaks” on my feed were sexually explicit statements. I know some people will argue that sexually explicit content can be found on any form of social media but apps like this (and others like Snapchat and Whisper) make it easier for teenagers to view and share this type of content. A second thing parents need to be aware of is the cyberbullying risk that comes with this app. Like Ask.fm, since users can post anything as an anonymous user there is a huge opportunity for users to cyberbully other users. This will often happen through users replying to other users “Yaks.” Because of this, many schools, both high school and college, have banned this app. Yik Yak developers do use a technology called geofencing, which allows certain areas like schools to be “fenced” off to avoid cyberbullying. However, this doesn’t always work and is not always used which leads to continued cyberbulling on this app. The last thing I want to make sure parents are aware of with this app is the illusion of location privacy. Even though this app, and many others like it, ensure location privacy there are always ways for people to find out where other users are. This may not be easy to do and the average user will not be able to do it but it can be done. For an example, two teenage girls where arrested when they made threats about a campus shooting on this app. The two girls were tracked down by police and arrested. One article reminds us that “every digital device has an IP address that allows for it to be tracked.”

What Parents Should Do
Once parents are informed about this app and are aware of how it works as well as some of the negatives things that come with it, what should they do next? First and foremost parents must not be afraid to have an open conversation with their teenager about this app. Explain to them how it works if their teenager doesn’t know already (impressive them if they don’t) and talk to them about some of the negative things that come with using this app. Once parents have done this they will need to decide if this is an app they are ok with their teenager using or not. My suggestion for parents is to not let their teenager use this app. There isn’t really any point to it and there is no good way for parents to track what their teenager may be viewing or doing on this app. However, a parent could see what their teenager has posted as a “Yak” or their replies to other “Yaks.”

I’d encourage parents to also check out iparent.tv’s post on this app. They share some good insight on this app that would be worth checking out.


Bullying and Student Ministry

Upset Teenage Girl With Friends Gossiping In BackgroundBullying is a form of child abuse and 4 out of 10 children will drop out of high school this year because they are being bullied at school or abused at home. When students going to school, one out of every four of them will be bullied. Also, one out of five students admit to being the bully themselves. Bullying has been and is still a major issue within teen culture. Not only is this an issue within the walls of a middle school or high school, but with the rise of new technology it’s an issue online as well.

As a student pastor I rub shoulders with students every week who are being bullied as well as being a bully themselves. I encounter students who hate going to school and will possibly think about taking their life if the bullying doesn’t stop. Not only this, but I see bullying creeping it’s way into our student ministry as well. I’m not alone in this, student pastors and youth workers every where encounter these same situations and students. So what are we to do? What can student ministries do to help bring a decline in bullying? Here are a few things I believe we as student pastors and youth workers can do.

Educate our students. Use this issue to educate your students about bullying. Show them the devastating reality of what bullying does to students. Doing this will help your students are are being bullied have a voice and feel comfortable knowing you are trying to stop this thing. Also, this is a way to show the bullies what they are actually doing. When appropriate, use films such as Bully to educate your students.

Show your students from the Bible bullying is a sin. Call bullying what it is-sin. There is no way around it, bullying is never a good thing and from God’s Word be called a sin. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Bullying always involves talking in a negative way towards someone. Even when the bullying is physically, it usually involves words. The Bible makes it clear our speech, our words, should be for building up and should offer grace to the hearer. Does bullying do that? The Bible expects us to treat others with respect and dignity as image bearers of God and students need to know bullying as no place in our life’s. Don’t be afraid to show students from the Bible why bullying is wrong.

Partner with parents. Many times parents are unaware of bullying that may be going on at school or online. If you catch it before the parents do, make sure and have a conversation with the parents. You may talk with the student or students, but realize our job is to equip and partner with the parents. Don’t leave them out of this. Also, share resources with parents to help them understand this issue. One resource you can share is Covenant Eye’s eBook called A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying.

Don’t allow bullying in your ministry. Your student ministry must be a safe place for students. Don’t allow bullying to gain an inch in your ministry. If you see it happening, stop it and don’t be afraid to set tough boundaries. Students should never feel unsafe at our ministry because of bullying. Also, students should realize bullying has no place whatsoever in our ministry.

These are just a few ways I believe student ministries can help when it comes to this major issue of bullying. What are some ways you and your ministry are fighting against bullying?

Ask.fm – What Parents Need to Know

Ask.fm, a social networking platform where anonymous users can ask other users questions, was released a few years ago, but is now gaining a lot of popularity among teenagers. Ask.fm integrates with Twitter and Facebook which makes it easy to use and share with others. Also, they have an app so you can use Ask.fm on your smartphone. Everyday I see multiple teens pop up on my Twitter feed using Ask.fm.

With Ask.fm becoming so popular, what do parents needs to know about this social network? Really there isn’t much to know about it. It’s simple, easy to use, and makes for fun interaction among anonymous users. However, there are three issues that parents need to be aware of when it comes to Ask.fm.

Safety. The big issue here is safety. The unsafe part comes in when you have no clue who is asking you questions because they are anonymous. Ask.fm does have a safety page on their website that offers practical guidelines on how to be safe while using their service (click here to view that page). They also offer the option of turning off anonymous questions. In their words, “this way nobody will be able to ask you anonymously and you’ll have a better control over content you receive in your Inbox.” However, with all of this said, your profile and content stays public.

Cyberbullying. The biggest issue when it comes to Ask.fm is cyberbullying. Because you can ask questions (or make statements) and stay anonymous, cyberbullying is becoming very popular on Ask.fm. So much so that there have been teenagers who have committed suicide due to bullying that was linked to Ask.fm (click here to read more about that). Cyberbullying is becoming a huge issue with among teens and social networks sites are making bullying that much easier. In my opinion, the biggest issue with Ask.fm is the bullying aspect.

Inappropriate Conversation. Another issue is the inappropriate, most of the time sexual, conversation that often takes place on Ask.fm through questions and answers. Through this network, teens can ask anything they want without having to tell who they are. What more could they ask for if they want to make sexual comments. I have seen this trend on most teens Ask.fm accounts that I have looked at.

These are just a few things parents need to know about Ask.fm. Please remember social media is an amoral thing (it’s neither bad or good). Don’t throw out all social media just because some people use it in a bad way. Teach your teenagers to use Ask.fm in a way that honors and glorifies God.


Negative Impact of Social Media on Teens

the_blogger-4eb9744-introA few weeks ago I taught a parent seminar called “Social Media 101.” In that seminar I talked about the impact of social media on teens. Most teenagers in the world today don’t remember a time when there wasn’t some form of social media. One article says, “Teens today, also known as the Facebook Generation or ‘digital natives,’ are part of the first U.S. generation to be so closely identified with technology.” Social media is becoming more than just a part of their world, it’s becoming their world. Teens are spending more and more time online, usually on a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter, and their online life is not just staying on their computer at home. Most teens now have smart phones where they are on social media networks all throughout the day. They are constantly texting, tweeting, and posting pictures via Snapchat and Instagram.

What impact does this hyper-connected social media life have on teenagers? The impact is both negative and positive. There are some good things that come out of social media for our teens, but that is a topic for a later discussion. For now, I want to focus more on the negative effects of social media on teens.

Always connected. Today teens don’t know how to disconnect. Social media has allowed them to take their life online and instead of saying goodbye to friends at school and waiting to see them the next day, they just go home and jump on their favorite social media network and interact with them for the rest of the day. With the rise of smart phones, such as the popular iPhone, teens don’t even have to wait to get home. They can now interact through social media on their way home with the help of their smart phone. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all the other popular social media platforms are right there on their phones. One reason this “always connected” activity is harmful is because of the alarming trend of cyberbullying. Parents remember when bullying only happened at school or on the bus. Once you got home with your family you were safe. However, bullying has now moved from not only being in the school and on the bus, but online. What does this mean? If a teen is getting bullied, they cannot get away from it! The people bullying them simply continue their bullying via social media (Click here to download a great free resource on cyberbullying).

More comfortable, less sensitive. Another impact social media has had on teens is teens being more comfortable online doing things that they should be more sensitive to doing. Sexting is a perfect example of how comfortable teens are online. Many teens today are not comfortable enough to engage in physical sexual activity in person with someone, but are more than comfortable to participate in sexual activity online with someone. Social media apps like Snapchat make this extremely easy for teens. Teens feel “safe” behind their computer screen or phone so they will post nude or semi-nude pictures. Or they will engage in sexual conversation through Facebook messaging/chat or texting, but would not be comfortable to have those conversations in person. Are all teens using social media for sexting and stuff like that? Certainly not, but many are. No matter what it is, sexting or bullying, teens are more comfortable doing stuff behind their screens than they are in person. Social media has made this easier for them to embrace stuff they would not otherwise embrace because they can do it “safely” behind a screen.

Identity crisis. The section above makes it extrememly clear that teens today who are highly engaged in social media are having an identity crisis. Not all of them are, but many teens are someone else on social media than they are when they are with their family or possibly church if they are involved there. Social media has made it easy for teens to not be consist and have a “double life.” Everyday I see students who tweet and post things on Facebook that totally contradict what their parents, or others that know them personally, think of them.

Has social media ruined teenagers? I don’t think so. However, there has been some negative effects on teens because of social media. It’s important to remember these things when raising or ministering to a teenager. Social media has and is changing the way they life. It is effecting who they are, what they do, and how interact. The things above are just a few of the negative effects I see social media having on teens. In the comment section below, I’d love to hear your thoughts and how you see social media having a negative impact on teens.


Freebie: A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying_cover-300x232I want to with you, especially parents of teens, a free resource made available by Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes has put together a helpful ebook for parents about cyberbullying called A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying. 15% percent of teens have faced some form of cyberbullying in the past year. Cyberbullying is simply bullying being done online usually through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Cyberbullying is extremely serious because what is said and done online cannot be erased. The effects of cyberbullying are just as permanent.

This is what Covenant Eyes says about this resource on their website: “Cyberbullying, or “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices,” is a serious problem that can have serious repercussions, resulting in depression, a drop in grades, self-harming behaviors, and in some cases, suicide. Whether you’re concerned your child is being bullied online, or whether you simply want to equip yourself for the future, this free guide, A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying, will help you understand what cyberbullying is and what you can do about it.”

I want toe encourage all parents of teens to please download and check this great resource out. All you need to do is click the link below and it will take you to the free download page on Covenant Eyes website.

Click here to download A Parents Guide to Cyberbullying