Ask Me Anything! A look at preteen internet safety


Ask me anything!

If you are on Instagram, you have likely seen an “Ask Me Anything” image. Users are directed to “check out my” What is that? Is it dangerous? How does it work? Isn’t it just another way for kids to have fun on the internet? An page looks a lot like my questions below, only the kids ask things like “Bobby? (which is shorthand for “What do you think of Bobby?”),  “What is your favorite color?,” “Are you hotter than your sister,” and “how old are you?”. Very simply, if your kid has an account, anonymous people ask questions for them to answer. You can find out more details about how it works at webwise. I’ll share some of my thoughts about recent social media trends below in the format.

Are you cool?

I’d like to think so, but truthfully, I am a 40 year old mom who uses social media a lot for my job and personally. I have twitter, instagram, facebook etc. and I know how to use them… or at least most of them… sort of.  I am an educator, mom of tweens and work with youth so I spend a bit of time watching and listening to what kids say online. I notice what you notice: the list of sites kids access grows daily. New things come out constantly and I struggle to keep up.

 How did you find out about

I was doing a check of my kids’ texts (they got busted for texting after our electronics curfew, BTW) and saw some references to I started looking at it more carefully. On the one hand it looks kind of fun. But I also saw quite a few instances where nine and ten year old kids were giving out waaaayy too much info.  I saw 3rd and 4th graders trying to develop a large following. And they were pretty successful at getting lots of strangers to pay attention to them using a variety of aps and sites (think of a 10 year old having 400+ followers on instagram, twitter,…. who are all those people??!?).

How do I know if my kid has an account?

Check your child’s instagram bio to find their username for sites like, oovo, twitter etc. If you know their username, you usually don’t need and account of your own to see their Just type in your web browser.

What is the problem with

Without supervision, this could be a potentially dangerous site. There is no way to know who is following your child or asking the questions.  This of course leaves the door open to predators. It also leaves a lot of space for kids to create bullying situations.  If your child is allowed on, check it regularly and consider checking your child’s friend’s pages, too.

How many twitter followers do you have?

Like 5. I soooo don’t put any effort into it. But if I wanted more, I could do what the kids do and request #moreliksplease! Kids have remarkable numbers of followers, most of whom they may not know.  What do they do with twitter and these other sites? They try to #getmorelikes and have people #followthem on their other social media sites so that they develop a following across multiple sites. What is the point of all this? To create an overall sense of online popularity and also communicate with their real life friends.  All of that can be fun and harmless – except when they give out enough information to strangers to make it easy to identify them and come find them in the real world.

What is #?

Called a hash tag, it is used to mark posts or photos. Searching for #newyorkcity on a site, will bring up all the posts and photos marked with that symbol. Your kid uses it for other things. Read the hash tags to get an idea of what your kid is thinking. They range from #getmorelikes, to thoughts about body image (#fatkidz), to information about people they want to date (#Bobby!), to how they are feeling in general (#sotired). If they want an opinion on hair or clothes, they might post a #selfie (self portrait) and request  “#100likesplease.”  Anyone can make a hash tag that says anything they want. Try it – #it’sfun! But most importantly, follow your kids on their social media sites and pay attention to those #’s.  If you find an abbreviation you don’t know, is a good source of all the new hip lingo.

Why are you hating on hash tags (#’s)?

I don’t hate hash tags (actually, I have been known to throw them into conversations, which my kids think is dorky). But, we need to be aware of the differences between how we use social media and the way our kids use social media.  Kids are growing up learning to  internalize social media. They can tell you exactly how many followers they have, how many likes they get, and probably use it, in part, to gauge their popularity. You may have known the in crowd by what table you sat at. Today’s kids have quantifiable data to see if people like their #newshirt. The best article I have seen on how kids use likes and followers to feel popular is here.

Is my kid on doing things they shouldn’t be doing?

That depends on your rules. Whatever your rules are, your kids are going to test and stretch them. Do you know what accounts they have? Do you follow them on instagram, twitter….? Have you tried Googling your child’s name and user name? In my sleuthing, I found several kids using their full names, which we all know is dangerous. But they also might use just one user name across multiple aps or sites. When they do that, it makes it incredibly easy to put together a lot of information from a couple of sources.  Check your kids’ friends’ pages as well. With cameras on every device, you may find that your kids friends’ are giving away more information about your kid than you would like. This is where the @symbol comes in. You will find kids tagging their friends, which means “friends” of friends can find out your kid’s user name and start following them.

If you need help finding info about keeping your child safe online, talk to your child’s school for resources, or see if your local police department has information online. There are countless places to go for information about online safety. Common Sense Media is  my go-to for ap reviews and age guidelines.

What rules have you given your kids?

Rule number one= tell them the rules. Talk about your expectations and guidelines for responsible use. Then wait for the eye roll and tell them again. Repeat. Daily. Until Forever.

At our house, we tackle online safety on two fronts by restricting their use on the hardware side and monitoring their use on the software side. On the software/ap side, we give them more online privileges in a stair step fashion. If a site says you must be a certain age, we hold them to that (which is totally biting me in the butt because I want my twelve year old to have Google calendar but Google says you have to be 13.) We started with email first, setting it up so that we receive a copy of all incoming and outgoing. Now in middle school we have added the use of a free texting app during certain hours. Texts are reviewed periodically. To get an ap on their device requires a parental code, so we are able to evaluate the sites they are on, before they are on.

On the hardware side, we have our Wi-Fi locked down pretty tightly using Open DNS. You can control what anyone using your home internet can see. You can block categories of sites like gambling or porn and get very specific and block individual sites that you don’t approve of. We also have chosen not to give our kids smart phones or devices with cameras (yep. that one kid you saw with a flip phone – that’s mine!).  This limits their ability to compromise their privacy while away from our supervision.

Keep calm and stay vigilant!

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