YOLO: What Parents Need to Know About the Anonymity App Kids Use with Snapchat

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If your kids use Snapchat, chances are they also use the popular new app YOLO along with it. Since it’s debut in May YOLO has been downloaded over 5 million times, and kids absolutely love it. Whether or not parents love it, however, remains to be seen.

But before rendering YOLO yet one more risky app (because frankly, all apps are dangerous if used recklessly) let’s take a closer look at what the attraction is for teens and how we can equip them to use it wisely.

Why kids love it

Snapchat is already where kids spend a lot of their time, and YOLO is an app specifically designed to work in tandem with the Snapchat interface. YOLO enhances that experience by allowing Snapchat users to invite other Snapchat friends to ask or answer questions anonymously. And who hasn’t been curious about what other people think about them or wish they could access how someone “really” feels about something? Kids can ask any number of questions such as if people think they are funny, if their new hairstyle works, how to lean on a big decision, or if others share their fear of clowns. The possibilities are endless. This kind of connection — without having to put your name on your answer — offers some a fresh level of honesty and peer connection.

What makes it risky

The exact reasons kids love YOLO — anonymity, curiosity, honesty — are why the app could (and by some reports already has) turn into the latest breeding ground for bullying. Similar to anonymous apps preceding YOLO such as Yik Yak and Saraha, users can say whatever they want without attaching their name. Apple and Google stores have banned similar anonymous apps over accusations of hate speech and bullying.

What parents can do 

Talk about the app with your kids. Pull YOLO up and see how your child is using the Q&A app and the kinds of questions and responses he or she is collecting. Discuss any concerns you see.

Discuss the risks of anonymity. There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the online disinhibition effect, which means people feel less attached and responsible for their actions when they feel removed from their real identities. In short, when people can be anonymous online, they tend to say things they’d never say to someone in person. Warn kids that when they open themselves up to anonymous comments, they can also be opening themselves up to hurt. So, proceed with caution.

Check privacy. The YOLO app is very vague about how its user data is shared. As with any popular app, be mindful of the permissions you grant. Periodically, consider going through your phone settings to review and edit what information an app is collecting. Check to see if an app has access to your photos, location, social map, health information, purchasing habits, contacts, calendar, camera, or more.

Limit YOLO circle. Likely, because the YOLO app went viral so quickly, the site does not include app policies or guidelines or how to report abuses, which is a problem. The only nod to safety is in a brief app description in the Apple store: “YOLO is for positive feedback only. Be kind, respectful, show compassion with other users; otherwise, you will be banned. Please, be mindful of what you send.” To reduce potential bullying, advise kids to only send their questions to people they know and trust with kind responses. If problems arise, encourage kids to delete the app.

Words have power. Removing your face and name from a comment does not dilute the power of the words shared. Remind kids that their words can either be used to build someone up or tear them down and that being “honest” with someone doesn’t include giving mean spirited opinions or taking part in online trends that allow an “anything goes” mentality, as was the case with the TBH (To Be Honest) app.

Consider the tone of a text. Remind your child that even when someone posts something, they may consider funny, it may not be funny to the person on the receiving end. Because of the vulnerability factor of Q & A apps, they can cause unnecessary drama. Intent and inflection often get lost online, and even a seemingly small comment can quickly escalate into a big deal. With more social networks taking steps to reduce online hate speech and bullying, users must do their part and think before posting sensitive comments.

Stress responsibility, and empathy. Relating to others with empathy — putting oneself in the shoes of another person to understand and share their feelings — is often harder to do online than face-to-face. Stress to your child the importance of being responsible online and remembering the real people, with real feelings on the other side of a blank text box.

New apps come out every day. Some catch on like wildfire, like YOLO, and others have traction for a while then fade into cyber oblivion. Regardless of an app’s staying power, discuss app safety with your kids openly and often. Also, as an added layer of protection on devices, consider security software to monitor device activity and block inappropriate apps and websites.

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