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Yik Yak and other apps creating cyberbullying concerns; what can parents do?

Cyberbullying  is showing up on popular cellphone apps like Yik Yak. Parents are learning how to protect their children.
Cyberbullying is showing up on popular cellphone apps like Yik Yak. Parents are learning how to protect their children.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Across the country cyberbullying concerns are growing as parents and school districts discover new bully tools in the form of common apps like Yik Yak and Kik. Some Metro Atlanta parents have gone so far as to transfer their children to other schools due to this new intense avenue for cyberbullying.

DeKalb County parent Tonya Cummings says her middle school daughter, age 13 and son, age 14 were both bullied to the point of near physical harm, property damage and failing grades. The continued bullying by a group of girls at the students’ McNair Middle School became so bad that Cummings said the school created a special safety plan for her daughter. But the neighborhood girls became even more defiant.

In March, Cummings says she took legal action against the girls due to an incident that occurred at the family’s home. As for her children, Cummings says they were granted a school transfer by DeKalb County, and are excelling at their new school.

According to Cummings, their problems directly stem from an ugly Yik Yak post created by another female student pretending to be Cummings' daughter and without the daughter’s knowledge. Cummings adds that her children’s cyberbullying experience is not an isolated case, but other students are falling victim to Yik Yak, Kik and other similar cellular posting sites.

The Yik Yak app allows for anonymous, untraceable cellphone post that can be read within a five mile radius, and does not require an account setup or username. Metro Atlanta join other U-S cities now force to tackle this form of cyberbullying.

In early March 2014, parents and educators in Dallas-Fort Worth started taking note of the problem, and in Chicago they went so far as to disable the Yik Yak app.

Yik Yak was created by college students as a fun phone app to communicate about classes and campus activities. The app’s new rating is intended for people 17 years and older, but that guild line has not stopped high school, middle school and even elementary age students from singing on.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, “Often the comments are mundane observations for their classmates, but have included harassing messages, answers to tests, sexually explicit comments, profanity, hate speech, and even bomb threats”, like the March 2014 incident in Los Angeles.

Yik Yak app’s co-founder Brooks Buffington told the, “It's disheartening to see our app being used in an unintended way."

DeKalb County Safe Schools Coordinator, Quentin Fretwell says one of first things parents must realize is that in the past they had an easier task of keeping their eyes on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts. This was mainly because parents knew those sites existed, computers were centrally located in the home and could be monitored. But with today’s smartphones, ipads, tables and other Wi-Fi devices, keeping up with students’ cyber communications now require parents to become more techno savvy.

Fretwell says parents must also move out of the mind set of, “Yes its happening, but not my child.”

“With anonymous apps like Yik Yak and others, students often find it easier to say negative things about their classmates because they are not face to face”, says Fretwell.

In line with the recent Yik Yak’s age rating change to 17+, parents can now place restrictions on under-17-year-old children's phones that block them from downloading the app.

Also many of the concerning post occur and are read late at night, when students should be asleep. Fretwell suggest parents “be parents” and actually restrict access to the cellphones and Wi-Fi devices by establishing cut off times.

Parents must also make sure their children understands the impact bullying can have on their own futures as well as other's future. Fretwell directs parents to set expectations of humanity, being kind to one another, and not doing and saying things that can hurt someone.

Critical to a teen’s self-esteem and overall well-being is how aware parents are to changes in behavior or demeanor. Clear signs of school anxiety include students making excuses for not wanting to go to school, appearing to be angry, withdrawn or displaying poor grades. Parents must keep the doors of communication open at all times encouraging their children to talk about concerns.

DeKalb County, like other districts, have a Comprehensive Bully Awareness Campaign. It is vital that students understand that there are legal ramifications of bullying. Making threats, cyberbullying and fighting can lead to suspension and even arrest.

Finally parents must be role models. “Do as I say and not as I do,” is not going to help a child understand the seriousness of cyberbullying. Instead it will send an overriding message that defeats the goals of stopping teen bullying.

Quentin Fretwell says bullying is a society issue and learned behavior taught by school, home, the media and the community”. And cyberbullying is an isolation issue of, “We are this and you are not”, or “Who is hot and who is not”. Becoming aware of new cyberbullying tools like YikYak is vital step in addressing this serious problem.

It is important to point out that these cellphone apps within themselves are not to blame, but the way some teenagers are using them that’s the real concern.

At a fragile and emotion time of a teenager’s life, cyberbullying or bullying of any kind is dangerous for all involved, and tears away at the development of a healthy society.

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