By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor
Last week, some of the students and staff at our high school felt the affects of social media harassment with the app Yik Yak. While the app in this case is blocked on our devices and network, students were using their phones to participate in this harassment and cyber-bullying. What follows is the letter I sent to all middle school and high school parents in our community. I'm sharing this in the hopes that we can all be aware of not only this specific app but also the fact that we need to have a constant communication between parent, school and child.
In light of this week’s incidents involving the inappropriate use of the app Yik Yak to harass Westlake students and staff, this is a good opportunity to open the door to a greater conversation we should be having with our kids about social media and their “digital footprint.” While we at Eanes ISD have taken the necessary precautions to block/restrict these types of apps on our network and devices, students still can engage in misbehavior on their own personal devices which can lead to serious distraction and, even more severely, possible prosecution.
We are sharing these tools and resources with parents in order to quell bad behavior and open up a dialogue between parent and teen about their digital lives. What follows is information about Yik Yak itself, next steps to take, other apps that can be inappropriately used, and where to go for help and support as a parent.
More about Yik Yak
Yik Yak is the latest in a line of social media apps using location services to post messages to those around the user. These messages are anonymous, but they are not untraceable. This app has had many issues across the country at the high school and college levels. While Yik Yak claims to have set up a Geofence (blocking cell data) around our schools, there are cases where students have been able to go out of range to post their messages. Here are some steps you can take as a parent to identify if this app is a problem for your child and what you can do to prevent its use.
If your child has the app, you can search what Yaks they have posted by clicking on “Me” and “My Yaks” inside their app. This will show you what they have posted, but know they can delete their yaks. However, you can see if they have ever posted on Yik Yak (even if they deleted the posts) by checking their “Yakarma” points in the upper left corner. By default, it’s set to 100. If they voted on a yak, posted a yak, replied, or shared, the number will change.
If your child is a Yik Yak user, a conversation needs to happen about why he/she feels the need to be on the app. We are recommending all parents delete the app from their children's devices, especially since Yik Yak policy states that you need to be of “college age” to use the app. If you don’t see the app but suspect it may have been downloaded, you can also check in the Updates section of the App Store under “Purchased” on your child’s phone. All apps ever downloaded are stored in there.
While deleting the app takes care of the immediate issue, there may be a larger issue at hand when it comes to the use of social media by your child. Please take this opportunity to have that conversation about how NOTHING on the Internet is truly anonymous or temporary.
Here’s a great article by psychologist Diana Graber called 3 Things Kids Need to Know About Yik Yak. I particularly love this excerpt from the article about Yik Yak and other apps that may follow it:
Here are articles about students being arrested for improper use of Yik Yak. They can help our students understand the seriousness of bad behavior on social media.
Yik Yak Working with Law Enforcement
Arrest Made at University of Georgia
So….What Else is Out There?
Like the above article states, there is always a new “something” when it comes to technology and social media. Being aware of what else is out there doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, but it is a good place to start for parents. Here are a few apps/sites to be aware of that have been making the rounds with teens nationally:
For a complete list of these and other social media sites gaining popularity with teens, check out this Common Sense Media blog post: 15 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to Beyond Facebook.
Again, awareness is just the first step. We need to continue to have an open conversation about this and everything else happening in their lives. Social media may be a new thing, but there has always been a need to discuss issues and problems with our teens well before Yik Yak and long after it’s gone.
Where Can I Get Help and Support?
Common Sense Media is a tremendous free resource for information from age-appropriate ratings of movies and video games to “best of” app lists for parents and kids. We especially encourage you to check out the “How-to” section on Cyberbullying. It includes many great resources for parents to use when addressing these topics with their kids, including things like: “How do I monitor my teen online without “spying”?” and “What should I do if my kid is bullied online?”
We here at Eanes ISD are also providing multiple resources and platforms for parents to get assistance or to report any issues that may be discovered down the road. Individual campus booster clubs have offered to host “Parent Tech Talks” led by me throughout the next several weeks. (Contact your local booster club for more info.) I also send out a monthly “Digital Parent Gazette” to alert parents of any concerns and showcase some great examples of how technology is being used in the classroom. To receive this newsletter, sign up here.
Thank you for taking the time to not only review all this information but also to have this conversation with your children. We know that it may be difficult, but it is important to have an ongoing conversation about social media and digital footprints. If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact either your campus administrators, counselors, or me.
It takes a village to raise a child. The more we communicate, the better the learning experience for our kids.