How to Build Positive Relationships with Teens Today: Tips from Teens

The goal of my blog is to help adults understand teens today in order to build positive relationships and assist them in navigating the crazy, unpredictable, emotional time we call adolescents.

I like to engage teens in the conversation for most topics and discussions rather than come at it from the point of view of a bunch of adults sitting in a room assuming we know everything there is to know about teens today.

With this in mind, I recently asked a group of teens the following question:

How can an adult (teachers, coach, parent, teacher, youth minister etc.) build a positive relationship with a teen today?

adult and teenTo avoid feeling like the picture above, follow the tips provided by teens below regarding how to build a positive relationship with teens today:

  • “Adults need to have empathy and try to understand what it is like to be a teen today. Don’t assume everything is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago when they were teens.”
  • “I think in order to form relationships with teens, adults need to give up some of their power. Adults need to show that just because they are older doesn’t mean that the teen and the adult can’t be “equals,” they need to trust the teens, and trust them a lot. And if something does go wrong the adult needs to walk through the situation and talk about what the teen needs to improve on. Adults shouldn’t be using their age or job as a source of power, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and everyone comes from different backgrounds. Adults should show respect to teens and vice versa.”
  • “Simply be honest and put yourself out there. Don’t sugarcoat things to the teens and be honest. Honesty and being open has always been the most appealing traits that I see in counselors/mentors when consulting one.”
  • “I think the best way is to understand that neither the adult nor teen are better than each other. Also, they need to be accepting that both people make mistakes.”
  • “The adult must be willing to listen to what the teen has to say. Also, the adult must be able to create safe boundaries. Then, the teacher or advisor should spend time with the teen on a weekly basis, this will help the teen become more comfortable with the advisor making it easier for them to open up with the adult.”
  • “the easiest way to communicate with the teen. Teens want someone they can open up to. It is relaxing. They can proceed to talk with the teen without becoming to formal, as we still are younger. It helps the most when they can personally relate to something you are going through or need help with. It gives off a comfortable vibe and the teen is more likely to open up.”
  • “I believe the best way for a positive relationship between teens and adults would be for their to be trust and a lack of judgment coming from the adult. Teens need someone to trust with their problems and need to know there is no judgement afterward.”

I want to reiterate that the statements above are direct quotes from teens when asked the question, “how can an adult build a positive relationship with a teen today?”

One point I would make after reviewing this list, is to take a moment and think about the questions from the teens perspective. For example, we read the statement “adults need to give up some of their power” from one of the teens. That statement causes the hairs on the back of our necks begin to stand as we say, “but I am the parent, the teacher the coach and you are the child.”

When I speak with teens I do not get the sense that they want us to abandon our authority and just be their friend. What I hear them saying is include me and ask me my opinion. Let me teach you something that I enjoy or let me help solve a problem. Often I see adults who only lecture and never listen or only tell and never ask. I am not saying you need to give all decision-making power to the teen, but including them in the process can go a long way in building a relationship with them.

What tips do you have for building positive relationships with a teen today?

YouTube’s Growing Influence on Teens

I want you to think back to when you were a teen. What celebrities were most influential on your life?

My guess is that it would be an actor/actress from your favorite TV show or movie, a player on your favorite sports team or a musician in a band. Personally I was a huge fan of Sylvester Stallone and Dennis Rodman. Let me clarify that I was a fan of pre-freak-show Rodman when he was with the Detroit Pistons and they won back-to-back championships.

Looking back, my infatuation with these celebrities was wrapped up in the character they rockyplayed or the effort they displayed and less about who they were. I idolized Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky. I was drawn in by the dedication, determination and will he displayed. I mirrored my style of play on the basketball court after Rodman’s. Diving for loose balls and recklessly going up for rebounds against bigger guys. That was the sum of what I knew of them, yet they were powerfully influential on my life.

Teens today want more. For someone to have influence on them they want to know their story, know they have things in common and feel that that person, in-part, represents their own aspirations in life. I believe this is true for two reasons.

One, teens have greater access to information than I did when I was a teen. They have the ability like never before to find out more about a celebrity beyond what they see on stage or the big screen. Finding out more can make the teen more or less interested in that person. If I would have known some things about Rodman back when I was a teen I may not have held him in such high regard.

Two, teens today have a strong desire for authenticity and affinity. To truly know someone else and feel connected to others. If they learn that they have similar interests and passions of a celebrity they like, the more they will feel connected to that  person. And ultimately that celebrity will begin to be influential on them.

With today’s teens desires to connect with others and the rise of the internet, it comes as no surprise then that YouTube personalities (A person or group that gains widespread recognition on the internet and beyond for videos they post on YouTube) are rising in the ranks of celebrities who are influential to teens today.

youtube-stars-shine-brightestIf you are not familiar with YouTube channels, here is a quick snapshot. Individuals and or groups create videos of varying lengths (sometimes multiple videos each day) on all sorts of topics from their daily life, dance, music, beauty/fashion tips, complete randomness,  or their own mini-shows. My kids personally love Kid Snippets videos where kids do the voice-overs for adults acting out situations. They are pretty funny. Some channels build a solid following with millions of subscribers and views on their videos.

Personally I have stumbled upon entertaining channels myself and before I knew it I had viewed a dozen videos by the same creator. I even found myself checking back for new content days later. Teens are digital natives and big users of YouTube and they are doing the same thing. For instance, a recent survey by Variety magazine “found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube celebrities,” not your traditional movie actors or actresses.

I asked Leo, a teen from southern California, to give me his thoughts on YouTube Celebrities being influential on teens today. Here are his thoughts:

In my opinion, I believe that they are influential and popular because they are associated with comedy, youth and consistency. YouTube stars tend to post content frequently, therefore gaining a much greater audience than say a mainstream actor who only comes out in a movie once or twice a year.

Most of the mainstream media actors do not have the interaction that the YouTube stars have due to the fact that they have no form of communication with their fans other than their social media. Even then they’re very limited towards what they can say. On the other hand, YouTube stars have the option of interacting with their audience through the form of a video which they can post at any time they wish. They have the liberty of voicing their opinion on their channel.

If you compare Felix Kjellberg (a Swedish video game commentator on YouTube known as PewDiePie) to Jennifer Lawrence, Felix posts content every single day. About two videos and each ranging about 7-10 minutes long. That has led to his HUGE success now with over 31 Million subscribers. Therefore he has a better interaction with his fan base community. Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand comes out in a hit movie every couple of months for about 2 hours. This amount of content and interaction plays big role because unlike Jennifer, Felix has public exposure everyday which keeps him very relevant in the media. What big celebrities struggle with is the fact that they cannot stay very relevant in the media. Right after a big movie or TV show is released, they just gradually lose the interests of the public.

If you still do not think teens are being influenced by YouTube stars, look at the fact the bethany-mota-at-teen-choice-awards-2014-in-los-angeles_21Teen Choice awards now have a category to recognize Web Stars. Bethany Mota and Tyler Oakley took home the 2014 honors for Web Star Female and Male by the way. Side Note: Bethany is also on the current season of Dancing with the Stars. Which leads to a whole other conversation around brands using YouTube Celebrities to influence teens for their brand. We will save that for another time.

Youth Worker and Parent Tips:

  • Learn who some of the popular YouTube celebrities are. Common Sense Media has an article titled 10 YouTube Stars Your Kids Love that i recommend you start with.
  • Use YouTube to create a common connection with your teen(s). Find a YouTube channel that you and your teen(s) both enjoy and is appropriate for their age and watch the videos together. Like I mentioned earlier my kids, who are not teens yet, enjoy Kid Snippets and we occasionally watch them together.
  • Have a discussion with your teen(s) about their favorite YouTube channels, why they like those channels and what is it about the videos that connects with them. You might learn something about your teen that you did not know or identify opportunities for you to connect better with them.

Tips for Engaging Volunteers in your Youth Program

Youth programs have a limited number of staff members to serve the many youth they serve. For example, a youth ministry program at a church may have one youth pastor to serve the 30 to 60 to 100 youth they serve each week.

We know that positive change in a persons (youths) life frequently occurs in and through relationships. Being greatly outnumbered as a youth worker can hinder the success of your program.

That is where volunteers play a significant role in any successful youth program. Having caring adults who can assist the staff in executing the program, building relationships with the youth and facilitating activities allows the staff to maintain some sanity and have a positive impact more youth.

I have been the youth worker who recruited and coordinated volunteers and I have been the volunteer engaging in a youth program in my free time. Because I have experience on both sides, I want to share a few tips to help you engage and utilize your volunteers to the fullest potential for the success of your program.

Note: I am not going to cover background checks and specific safety training but remember, the safety of your youth is your first priority.

  • Provide a clear overview of the program, your mission and what a typical day  or volunteer experience will look like. I have had volunteers who showed up with certain expectations. They thought kids would run up and hug them, want to play games with them and they would leave with the kids saying what a difference they made in their lives. Then they arrived and that was not the case, it was harder than they anticipated. The clearer we can be in regards to expectations, the more we set our volunteers up for success.
  • Get to know your volunteers. The experiences I have had where the coordinator has taken time to get to know me have been the most rewarding. I am not saying become best friends with every volunteer, but learn their names, why they are interested in volunteering with youth, what they are passionate about. You may even identify additional opportunities for them to connect with the program based off of skills and interest they have. I volunteered as a mentor for the juvenile courts a few years ago and the coordinator took time to meet me for lunch to discuss the program and get to know me. She then learned of my background with youth and I was able to provide additional training for her and her staff.
  • Connect volunteer to specific tasks or roles. I have been apart of too many volunteerexperiences where volunteers show up to an event and are told, “have fun.” Some volunteers will jump right in, others will turn into deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Providing specific tasks helps them connect, feel useful and accomplish tasks you need completed. There is nothing worse as a program coordinator to have enough volunteers but still feel like you are doing everything yourself. Have volunteers sign youth into the event, help with sound or lighting, facilitate ice breakers or lead small group discussions.
  • Communicate frequently with your volunteers. Volunteers are busy with full-time jobs, families, school etc. Frequently communicating with them through short emails or text messages reminding them of upcoming events, program updates and appreciation allows them to stay connected and see the bigger picture of the program. I volunteer with the youth group at my church and every week I receive an email talking about the upcoming gathering and even includes a basic outline of the night and our roles as volunteers. I love it! This allows me to have an understanding of the objective of the night and my role. I arrive and can plug right in and support the staff in achieving a successful gathering.
  • Ask them for feedback. Volunteers bring various perspectives to the table based on their background and experiences. Ask them for feedback, they may help you see ways to improve your program or connections you can make in the community that you did not see.
  • Provide training and resources. Do not assume everyone is gifted with engaging youth or know the basics of adolescent development. Take time to provide basic training throughout the year to help them understand youth and how they can have a positive impact on their lives.
  • Appreciate them. I am not talking about once a year giving them a thank you note. Each time they volunteer say thanks. Have some of the youth help you make thank you cards to send to volunteers to show their appreciation. Let them know the impact they are having on the program and the youth.

I could add more to this list but I want to know what tips do you have for working with and engaging volunteers in a youth program or event?

Oh Joy: The Hopes and Dreams of Teens Today

What do you see when you look at a teenager? Do you see a goofy kid lacking responsibility? Or do you see an aspiring young adult who wants to change the world? Or maybe something else?

Often, we see an element of the first. We witness a young person navigating their way through uncertain times – not a kid, but definitely not an adult.

Often this emerging, vulnerable person has a lot of passion! Although it may be for something seemingly materialistic, like the latest movie or a pair of shoes.

hopeful teenHowever, my experiences have shown me there is more to teens than this. I believe they have untapped passion. They have dreams and goals for their life, even if they have never spoken them out loud before. They are there, sometimes deep down inside.

I remember as a teen I dreamed of hitting the winning shot in the championship basketball game. I had goals to become a police officer, to serve others and help those in need. I had hopes of just fitting in. If we think back to our teen years, the majority of us had hopes, dreams and goals too.

Knowing someone’s hopes and dreams can tell you a lot about that person. I have been blown away by some of the deep thoughts teens and friends have shared when I’ve taken the time to ask about their hopes, and listen to their answers. I still remember a friend who told me about his dream to open up a sock store in the mall. It was a weird idea, but he was passionate about it.

If you work with teens or have teens, I encourage you to ask them what their hopes and dreams are. Like any relationship, having a positive bond established will contribute to the quality and depth of the conversation.

I recently asked a group of teens what their hopes and dreams were. Here are some of their responses:

  • To achieve greatness
  • To be a role model for younger kids
  • To be successful
  • To be happy, achieve my dreams and be stress free
  • To graduate high school and go to college
  • To be happy in my career, what ever it ends up being
  • To be successful in college
  • To fit in and be the best I can be
  • To choose the right path
  • To help make a difference in the world
  • To be a teacher and impact future students lives

Many of the teens I spoke to had a level of uncertainty about what exactly they wanted to do or be when they got older, but they did know they wanted to be successful. They defined success as making a difference, being happy and persevering when dealing with challenging situations or failure. None of them defined success as being rich.

Parent and Youth Worker Tips:

  • As you build a relationship and get to know your teens, take time to ask them what their hopes and dreams are. You can do this in a small group setting or one on one. If they don’t know that is ok. They may be embarrassed to say, or may have trouble articulating their thoughts. In a small group setting, writing, drawing or creating a collage out of magazine clippings can be a meaningful way for them to express their passion.
  • Share what your hopes and dreams were as a teen with them, no mater how silly or far-fetched. If you did not achieve those dreams, or perhaps went down another path, take time to explain that process. Teens will likely be comforted to hear how common it is to change course. Many teens fear their current dreams will not be satisfying in the long run. If you accomplished your dreams share with them how you did it. It can be helpful for teens to hear what steps you took, failures you experienced along the way, and how you overcame adversity.
  • Make a point to practice sensitivity with teens, and do not laugh or poke fun at their hopes and dreams.
  • Encourage them to pursue their dreams and to embrace their passions. My parents knew of mine and my brothers dreams of becoming police officers and connected us with a local law enforcement explorers program. Find opportunities to explore, experience and dive into their passions and dreams.

The next post in this series will focus on the fears teens experience today. Stay tuned!

Finish this Sentence. Teens Today Are…..

Lazy, selfish, narcissistic, entitled. These words have angered me in recent years. Why? Because adults have used these words to describe teens today and I don’t feel they are accurate.

I will admit that teens can and do have these traits. But I have also met and interacted with hundreds of teens that are passionate, care for others, are focused and are having positive impacts on the world around them.

I decided to compare what adults thought about teens today with what teens think about their generation. I asked each group to share with me words or phrases that they thought described teens today. Here is what they told me.

How adults described teens today: 

adults describe teensThe five most common words used by adults to describe teens were: Lazy, Creative, Entitled, Disrespectful and Connected.

I was not surprised that the majority of the words were negative, but was pleased to see some adults responded with positive words such as creative and bright.

How Teens described their generation:

20140612-190653-68813708.jpg

 

The most common words teens used to describe themselves and their peers were: Confused, Technology Dependent, Socially Connected, Open Minded and Creative.

One interesting note was how teens felt the need to expand and explain their descriptive words. Almost like they were in a defensive posture just from me asking them the question.

Here is one example. One teen used the word focused to describe teens today. Then they went on by saying that if there is something a teen really wants or a goal they have, they are focused on achieving that goal.

Several teens were also quick to point out that it is hard to describe all teens with just a few words or phrases. They seemed to recognize that their were some negative stereotypes of teens today but they felt strong that those should not define all teen. I found it interesting that no adults made the same point.

My point.

My intent was to do this as a fun experiment to see the differences between how adults and teens describe teens today. I am sure we could do this with previous and future generations and get similar results of positive and negative descriptions.

I do want to challenge those adults that work and interact with teens today to not assume that all teens fit into one category or description. Imagine if an adult did that to you when you were a teen? I am guessing we all had moments we are not so proud of when we were teens that could have caused us to be labeled disrespectful, lazy, or a troublemaker.

In my experience, the more we approach teens as if they are lazy or disrespectful, the more likely they are going to act that way.

I want to encourage you to treat them as if they are amazing, talented, creative teens with something to offer. You might be surprised that they fulfill those expectations.

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make a Big Difference in Teens Lives

Every time I speak with youth workers or parents, I continually share the one idea that I feel will make a difference in teens lives today. One concept that if you use it with your teens over time, you will see a difference. A difference in your relationship. A difference in their respect for you. And a difference in the impact you can have on their lives.

The great thing about this ideas is how simple it is. Are you ready for it?

BE INTENTIONAL!

Simple right? Let me unpack this concept for you.

If you work with teens, before they even arrive for your program, have a plan in mind. I don’t just mean your program plan.

For Youth workers it looks like:

  • Having intentional plans about specific youth you want to connect with. Maybe a teen who you know had a bad day the previous day. Or one who had a big test today. Or had a court appearance. Seriously make a list of the teens you want to connect with and keep it in your pocket.
  • Have specific conversations in mind that you want to have with teens. About character traits. About events happening in pop culture that might connect to elements of your program.
  • Think about teens who you can complement them on what they have been doing well recently. Or just share how much you appreciate them.
  • Intentionally plan fun! We often get stuck in our program goals and forget to have fun. Teens want to have fun. Plan jokes, fun Minute to Win it games, Minute mysteries, icebreakers etc.
  • Be intentional with your staff and volunteers.
    • Have staff review a list of teens in your program. Identify which ones you know well and which ones you don’t. Then intentionally make efforts to reach out to the ones you don’t know as well. Make it your goal that day to learn one thing about one of those teens. If you continually do this, over a month you will know a decent amount about that teen.
    • If you volunteer with teens make sure you connect with the staff or other volunteers briefly to develop a game plan for the day. Who is going to lead discussions, who is leading activities, what topics may have been discussed on days when you were not present.

For Parents it can look like:

  • Intentionally make plans to hang out with your teen and do something they want to do. Schedule dates with them. My father-in law did this with all four of his daughters. He frequently made time to connect with each of them one-on-one, to listen to them and to connect with them. I have already started building daddy-daughter dates into my routine with my two girls even though they are not teens yet.
  • Write down the values and characteristics you want your teens to have and then figure out creative ways to introduce those to your teens. If you want them to be problem solvers invite them to help you the next time you have to fix an issue in your house, but let them come up with the solutions and try them out. If you want them to have a giving spirit, include them in conversations about what charities your family gives donations to. Even better, give them a set amount of money that they can donate to a charity of their choice. Walk alongside them as they investigate which charity they want to support.
  • Pay attention to what their favorite snacks are, TV shows, Movies or magazines. And when they are having a rough day or week, surprise them with their favorite snack or magazine.
  • Ask how their day was and truly listen. If they don’t respond be more specific, ask about a certain class, or teacher, or test, or activity they participate int.

Chap Clark in his book Hurt makes a powerful statement regarding adolescence today. He says, “we as adults who care have a long way to go to penetrate the layers of protection that keep us from being one more disappointment (to teens) in a world filled with them. But I am convinced that we are welcome there, if we mean it. And they need us to mean it.”

Do whatever you can not to be a disappointment to the teens in your life. I believe it all starts with being intentional.

How to Connect with Teens

Working with teens for the last 13 years, I have learned something very important. No two teens are alike. Therefore we can’t use the same tactics in dealing with every teen.

Here is one example.

Think about your youth group, your teens or teens you work with. You probably have a teen or two that are very talkative and will answer any question you ask (even if they don’t know the answer). These are the teens that you know when they are in the room because they are very engaged and active. In contrast you probably have a few teens that are more quiet and reserved. The ones that would not answer a question if no-one else was in the room let alone a large group. These are the teens that if they don’t show up for an event, you might not realize that they are not there.

I recently heard two great ideas about how to engage and connect with this second group of teens.

The first idea comes from two ladies I volunteer with at my church’s youth group. Shout out to Andi and Nicole! During our weekly youth group, they meet with a small group of high school girls to discuss the message shared that evening, chat, ask questions and support each other. They know not all of their girls feel comfortable asking questions in a group setting and have come up with an awesome option to connect with them.

We have assigned lockers for each of our high school small groups, and Andi and Nicole keep a journal in that locker. At any time their girls can grab the journal and write a question in it, share a prayer request or just write down their thoughts. Andi and Nicole will check the journal periodically and respond to what the girls have written. This provides space for the girls who might not feel comfortable asking a question in the group environment. Great Job Andi and Nicole! Parents, I think keeping a journal in your home to converse with your teen would also work well.

The second idea I heard from several sources including conversations with parents of teens.

Have you ever seen a teen blush when you try to say something positive to them? Or when you ask them a question that might embarrass them? Yes and Yes. The thing is, teens want to know someone is proud of them and teens value the opinions of their parents and adult role models. They just might not show it or know how to accept it yet.

Most teens today own a cell phone and love to text. Use that to your advantage. Text your teen encouragement, that you are proud of their accomplishments or to continue making good choices. Have short conversations via text with your ten. This should not be an end all but it is a great way to let them know you care and start the conversation.

These are just two ideas that I have heard recently and wanted to share. The important message to take away is keep trying. If the method you are using to communicate with your teen is not working, try something else, be creative, ask your teen(s) how you can communicate with them and make sure you are creating opportunities to connect with all of your teens.

The Garbage Teens are Watching

I hear it all the time. Adults complaining about the garbage teens watch on TV. Shows often filled with violence and sexual activity. I don’t try to defend these shows, some of them are really trashy. What I remind adults is that teens are connecting with and enjoying these shows for a reason.

TV shows provide an opportunity to talk with teens about issues they are facing, positive or negative character traits and their perspectives on life. In order to create this dialogue, we need to not immediately dismiss a show as garbage, but instead engage teens in a conversation about the show.

Parent and Youthworker Tip:

  •  Pay attention to what your teens are watching on TV. Once you know what they are watching, do your research. Common Sense Media does a great job of reviewing TV shows,providing parents with a guide to what age group the show is appropriate for and a summary of the show contains.
  • Watch an episode of the show yourself. With shows available On Demand or streaming services you can easily watch a show at your convenance. You may find redeeming characteristics to focus on instead of the negative reviews you have heard about the show.  Focus on the positive where possible.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of judging the show, ask a question. Something along the lines of, “That guy Joe on the show was a jerk to that girl, what is his deal?” This allows your teen to respond, share their perspective and opens an opportunity for a conversation with your teen.

With that being said, what TV shows are teens watching? Based on recent teen award shows and a survey I did with teens, here are five shows that are currently popular with teens. (This is by no means an exhausted list)

teen wolf

Teen Wolf: Shown on MTV Monday’s at 10pm (currently between seasons). Episodes are available on Hulu and on MTV’s website.

 

family guyFamily Guy: Seen on the Fox network Sunday’s at 9/8c and reruns are available Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights on TBS. You can also catch episodes of Family Guy on Hulu, Netflix and on the Fox website.

pllPretty Little Liars (or PLL as it is refered to by the teens): Seen on ABC Family network Tuesdays at 8/7c. Episodes can also be viewed on Hulu, Netflix and the ABC Family website.

SpongeBob Squarepants: Seen on Nickelodeon ALOT. No seriously it is on multiple times every day. Episodes are also available on Hulu and the Nickelodeon website.

gleeGlee: Seen on Fox Thursdays at 8/8c. Episodes are also available on Hulu, Netflix and the Fox website.

I purposely did not provide descriptions of any of these shows because I have a challenge for you. Ask a teen if they watch any of these  five TV shows. If they do, ask which one they like the most and have them give you a short synopsis about the show and why they connect with it. Then email (or post in the comments) the synopsis and I will add it to this post. So we have a teen perspective on each of the shows.

Popular Teen App Spotlight: Ask.fm

If you work with or have teens and have not heard about the popular app Ask.fm you need to be aware of this potentially dangerous new app.

The Youth Culture Report (A great resource for youth workers) has posted an article I wrote about Ask.fm and what you need to know. You can check out the article Here.

Popular Teen App Spotlight: Ask.fm

(I recently wrote this article for The Youth Culture Report on Ask.fm. I wanted to re-post it here for those that missed it)

In elementary school I remember getting tapped on the shoulder and handed a note. The note had my name on it and had been passed anonymously from someone in the room. Opening it up it read something like this, “Do you like A) Christina, B) Sally or C) Jen?” There would be a note to circle who I liked and then to send the note back.

As I moved into middle and high school, the same style of anonymous questions came continued. But now they were often being asked by a peer who had been sent on a secret mission to figure out who I liked for their friend.

I remember two distinct feelings during these situations. First I would usually blush, get embarrassed and a little giddy inside thinking that someone may like me more than just a friend. My second feeling was that of uncertainty and fear. “What if I circled a name and it was not the person who sent the note? Would they be upset? Would they tell the person whose name I circled that I liked them?” A similar mental through played out in middle school and high school as well.

These experiences, although somewhat anxiety ridden, felt more like a childish game than anything else.

Times have changed since I was young. With access to technology and social networking sites, these types of encounters are more secretive (as far as who is asking the questions) and more public (who can see the questions and answers) through apps and websites.

ask 3A few years back Formspring was all over the news as a website teens were using to ask each other anonymous questions. It quickly got on the radar of all parents and youth workers because of the harassment that was occurring on the site.

Now a new app called Ask.fm is gaining popularity with teens with the same results.

Ask.fm is a question platform site and app that is highly integrated with Social Media where users can pose questions anonymously to other users through the site or on other social networks. Apps like this can be great fun with questions like, “What movies have you seen lately?” or “What did you do this summer?”

ask 2But when the site is abused it can lead to intentional harm and embarrassment to others. Based off of what I am hearing from teens, incidents of bullying, harassing and creating embarrassment for others is widespread.

It is also important to note that there are not many privacy settings on Ask.fm. Meaning anyone can see what questions are being posed and how they are being answered. Even if you are not a user of the site.

Parent and Youth Worker Tips:

  • Engage your teen in a conversation about what sites they are using and how they and other teens use them. Ask them if they have used Ask.fm and what type of questions they see their peers asking and answering.
  • Work with your teen to set up guidelines for the behavior online. Focus on what they will do if they encounter a situation that upsets them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Talk about what respecting others looks like online and what you expect from them. It is important to note that engaging your teen in coming up with these guideline will empower them to take ownership of their behavior and consequences. Every teen is different and you need to set guidelines based on your teen.
  • Discuss what the consequences would be if they violate your agreement. Teens feel that if they alert an adult to something that occurs online, even if they did not do it, they will have their internet or technology privileges taken away. And that is the last thing they want. Be clear that reporting something to you will not get them in trouble.

Please share this with your co-workers, fellow parents and teachers. As we begin the school year I see the potential for drama created by this app to spill over into our schools and after school programs.

Want More? Sarah Brooks wrote a GREAT article last week that tackles Ask.fm from a spiritual/religious viewpoint. Check it out Here.