Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

This year’s hottest social media can fill the school day with drama and distraction. 
By Caroline Knorr 
Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

Ask any middle or high school teacher what their biggest classroom challenge is, and it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll say “cellphones.” Makes sense. Today, 95 percent of teens have access to a cellphone, and nearly half say they’re on them “constantly.” Putting aside for a moment the need to find solutions to this problem, inquiring minds want to know: What the heck is on kids’ phones that they can’t go an entire class without them?

Two words: killer apps. Specifically, the ones that play into the tween and teen brain’s need for stimulation and peer approval and its weakness for thinking through consequences — in other words, stuff that lets them gossip, socialize, play games, and — if they’re so inclined — not work too hard. These apps are designed to capture kids’ attention and hold it for as long as possible. (Learn about the tricks social media designers use to keep kids hooked.) And once an app gains critical mass (like, when every kid in school is on it), your social life takes a major hit if you don’t, for example, play Fortnite, keep up a Snapstreak, or stalk your crush on Find My Friends. And, honestly, it takes a pretty steadfast kid to resist tapping into the internet hive mind for answers to tough homework questions (especially when everyone else seems to be doing it).

No wonder teachers have such an uphill battle keeping tweens and teens focused in class. But you can help your student by discussing this issue at home. In fact, by simply being aware of some of the key apps that tend to stir up trouble in schools, whether due to social drama, distraction, or something worse — like cheating — you can start a conversation with your kid that could save them and the teacher a lot of headaches. And while you don’t have to know every single detail of all the popular apps, it helps to have an awareness of when, why, and how they’re being used and to help your kid manage their own use and that of their friends. Most teachers would probably agree that the internet has been a mostly positive aspect of the middle and high school years. But students, with the support of parents, need to use it responsibly. (Learn more ways to help kids manage their app use and stay focused in school.)

Check out some of the apps that can potentially stir up drama in schools this year:

Snapchat. The original disappearing-message app has metamorphosed into a megaportal for chatting, finding your friends on a map, sharing images, reading the news, watching videos, and much, much more. As one of the most important apps for teens, it takes up a significant portion of their day. One of those time-consuming activities that occupy students during the school day is Snapstreaks, which require users to trade snaps within a 24-hour period. The longest streaks number in the thousands of days — and some kids maintain streaks with multiple people.

Tik Tok – including musical.ly. What started as a lip-synching app is now a hugely popular, full-fledged video-sharing service. The ability to “go live” at any time — meaning to stream yourself live (yes, on the internet) — has added a whole ‘nother level to the time tweens and teens can spend dancing, singing, pranking, and performing skits to music or other recorded sounds. While much of the content is fine, a lot of it is extremely iffy for kids, and when you watch it, you can see plenty recorded during the school day.

Games such as Fortnite and HQ Live Trivia Game Show (HQ for short). Fortnite has all the hallmarks of being a teacher’s worst nightmare: It’s easy to play, highly social, and super compelling. The hugely popular survival game is played in short bursts (until you die — which is often), so it’s tailor-made for students trying to get a bit of fun in between lunch and algebra class. Some schools are banning the game, leading to knockoff versions that get around the school network’s blacklist. HQis the smash-hit trivia game that’s played for real prize money. Each 12-minute game is hosted live as hundreds of thousands of players log in to answer 12 multiple-choice questions on a wide variety of trivia topics. Games usually take place twice on weekdays and once on weekends (the company experiments with different airtimes to keep players on their toes). Sponsors including Nike and Warner Bros., and big jackpots timed with massive events such as the NBA finals, show that HQ is actively cultivating a young audience.

Homework helpers such as PhotomathSlader, and, of course, Google. What do you do if you’ve been goofing off all day, or just feverishly multitasking, and can’t finish your geometry problems? Look ’em up. Apps that supply all the answers are only a few taps away. And don’t even get us started on home assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home, all of which can be programmed to provide tutor-like assistance.

People finders such as Find My Friends and Mappen. Kids love being in touch with their friends 24/7/365, and location apps make it easy to arrange get-togethers and make plans with your posse. But these apps have a dark side, too. Kids feel pressured to be “on” all the time, partly because of friends’ expectations that one should always be available. Stalking — either of your kid or by your kid — can be a major issue. And, riskiest of all, some location-aware apps encourage face-to-face meet-ups with strangers.

The 12 Apps That Every Parent Of A Teen Should Know About

Huffington Post

Some apps just enable bad choices.

02/17/2016

ENGADGET

Not everything online is evil, nor does danger lurk behind every new app that comes to market. But keeping up with your teens’ and preteens’ online activities is much like trying to nail jelly to the barn door — frustrating, futile and something bound to make you feel inept.

Keep in mind that no app poses a danger in and of itself, but many do provide kids with an opportunity to make, ahem, bad choices.

1. Audio Manager.

Sometimes when it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s really not a duck. Such is the case with Audio Manager, an app that has nothing to do with managing your teen’s music files or controlling the volume on his smartphone and everything to do with him hiding things like nude photos from you. It’s one of the top apps for hiding other apps.

Yes, there are such things. Kids can hide any app they don’t want you to see, Teen Safe says. When you press and hold the Audio Manager app, a lock screen is revealed — behind which users can hide messages, photos, videos, and other apps.

2. Calculator%.

Same deal, but this time with a calculator icon posing as something it isn’t. Sedgrid Lewis, online safety expert, notes that these apps look like a normal calculator app but when teens push a button within the app they can hide all inappropriate pictures. “It’s a key way teens are hiding their nude pictures from their parents,” said Lewis.

Lewis says the best way to solve this situation is for parents to add their teen to their iCloud account. That way, whenever a new app is downloaded by the teen, it will automatically download to the parent’s phone as well.

Think it’s not serious? Last fall, there was a headline-making case in a Colorado high school where teens used apps to hide a huge sexting ring from parents and school officials. And an Alabama district attorney, Pamela Casey, posted the video below to warn parents about the Calculator% app.

3. Vaulty.

Vaulty will not only store photos and videos away from parental spying eyes, but it also will snap a photo of anyone who tries to access the “vault” with the wrong password. Parents who find it on their teens’ phones can conclude just one thing: Your kid is hiding things from you.

4. Snapchat.

OK, so you’ve undoubtedly heard of Snapchat, an app that allows you to send a photo or video from your phone and determine how long the person on the other end can see the image until it self-destructs. But what you probably didn’t know is that a lot of images from Snapchat are regularly posted to revenge porn sites, called “snap porn.”

Snapchat may not be the #1 app used for sexting but that’s not to say it isn’t theprincipal appeal of the app for many: Users think their snaps will disappear and they are wrong. It’s actually pretty easy to recover a Snap, take a screenshot of it and share it with others — and by others, we mean porn sites. No parent wants to find a photo of their teen daughter or son on sites like snapperparty or sexting forum.

Not for nothing, Snapchat last year published a “Snapchat Safety Center” reminding kids that nude pictures were not allowed. “Don’t use Snapchat for any illegal shenanigans and if you’re under 18 or are Snapping with someone who might be: Keep your clothes on!” the company wrote.

The reality is, Snapchat is likely on your kid’s phone. The best control you have (besides taking the phone away) is to just have a frank heart-to-heart about how there is no such thing as texts or photos that disappear and this is some down-and-dirty stuff that can come back to haunt them.

PETER BYRNE/PA ARCHIVE

 5. Burn Note.

Like Snapchat, Burn Note is a messaging app that erases messages after a set period of time. Unlike Snapchat, this one is for text messages only, not photos or videos. Burn Note’s display system shows just one word at a time, adding a sense of secrecy to the messages. Again, by promising a complete delete, kids could feel more comfortable revealing more than what they would do otherwise. And again, capturing a screenshot so that the message can be shared and lives forever, may be the app’s Achilles’ heel.

Even if your kid doesn’t have the app and has no interest in reading super secret messages, she could unwittingly get involved: The app sends a Burn Note alert that she has a message waiting. Curiosity can kill the cat and an app like this could encourage cyberbullying when kids feel they can get away with things because there will be no record of it.

BURN NOTE

6. Line.

This is a real up-and-coming app, says online safety expert Lewis. It’s an all-in-one mobile hub for chatting, sharing photos and videos; free texting and video calls too. But the devil is in the details. Things can get dicey with the hidden chat feature; users can decide how long their messages can last (two seconds or a week). But the biggest shock may come to your credit card: Your kid can rack up some hefty in-app charges on Line as well. While the app says that minors need their parents’ permission to use it, there is no monitoring to ensure this takes place.

Bottom line: If your kid doesn’t have a credit card number, you are controlling access to his in-app purchases.

 

7. Omegle.

Omegle provides users with a chance to converse online with random strangers. Is there anything that strikes fear into a parent’s heart faster than that sentence?

We turn to our friends at Common Sense Media for this review: “Parents need to know that Omegle is an anonymous chat client with which users discuss anything they’d like. This can easily result in conversations that are filled with explicit sexual content, lewd language, and references to drugs, alcohol, and violence. Many users ask for personal data upfront, including location, age, and gender [ASL], something kids might supply (not realizing they don’t have to). Adults wishing to chat anonymously may find use in this app, but kids should be kept far away.”

‘Nuff said. And it took us awhile to find a photo with language that was publishable.

 

HELLABELLA/FLICKR

8. Tinder.

Tinder is a popular app used for hooking-up and dating that allows users to “rate” profiles and locate hookups via GPS tracking. It is too easy for adults and minors to find one another. And the rating system can be used for cyber-bullying; a group of kids can target another kid and intentionally make his/her rating go down.

9. Blendr.

Blendr’s 300 million users meet new people through GPS location services. You can message, exchange photos and videos, and rate the “hotness” of other users (encouraging your kid to engage in superficial values at best). But since there are no authentication requirements, sexual predators can contact minors and minors can hook up with adults — and of course there is the sexting, notes ForEveryMom.com.

10.
KiK Messenger.

KiK is an instant messaging app that lets users exchange videos, photos and sketches. Users can also create gifs. All well and good so far. Unfortunately, the term “sext buddy” has been replaced with “KiK buddy.” Sex researcher Megan Maas, wrote on ForEveryMom.com that kids are using Reddit and other forums to place classified ads for sex by giving out their KiK usernames. KiK does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, thus making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.

ROSS LAROCCO/FLICKR

 

11.  Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is the “Twitter meets Reddit” app. It allows users to post text-only “Yaks” of up to 200 characters that can be viewed by the 500 Yakkers who are closest to the person who wrote the Yak, as determined by GPS tracking. The issue is that these other users are regularly exposed to a barage of sexually explicit content, profanity and even personal attacks– anonymously, of course. It’s also the app du jour for sending a bomb threat to your school.  Yes, that has happened.

Elizabeth Long, an Atlanta teenager who was encouraged on Yik Yak to try harder to kill herself after her attempted suicide failed, led a Change.org drive to shut the app down. She wrote, “With the shield of anonymity, users [of Yik Yak] have zero accountability for their posts, and can openly spread rumors, call classmates hurtful names, send threats, or even tell someone to kill themselves — and all of these things are happening.”

12. Ask.fm.

This is one of the most popular social networking sites that is almost exclusively used by kids. It is a Q&A site where users can ask other users questions anonymously. The problem is that kids sometimes target one person and the questions get nasty. It is cyberbullying with no chance of ever getting caught. Ask.fm had been associated with nine documented cases of suicide in the U.S. and the U.K. through 2012. In 2014, its new owners pledged to crack down on bullying or said they would shut down the site.

Kik App Offers Anonymity to Teenagers, and Predators

The New York Times

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA FEB. 5, 2016

The allegations are beyond chilling: two Virginia Tech freshmen charged with the premeditated kidnapping and killing of a 13-year-old girl who, authorities say, communicated with her murderer online.

But the way they chatted — on a wildly popular messaging app called Kik — has increasingly become a source of concern for law enforcement.

The death of Nicole Madison Lovell, a liver transplant and cancer survivor from Blacksburg, Va., has put Kik — widely used by American teenagers but not as well known to adults as Snapchat or Instagram — in the spotlight at a time when law enforcement officials say it has been linked to a growing number of abuse cases. Neighbors say that the day before she died, Nicole showed them Kik messages she had exchanged with an 18-year-old man she was to meet that night.

interactive How Some Mobile Apps Have Led to Sex Crimes and Scandals FEB. 5, 2016
Kik is cooperating in the investigation. Its officials say they responded to “multiple emergency requests” from the F.B.I. for information that helped lead to the arrests of the students, David Eisenhauer, 18, and Natalie Marie Keepers, 19, both aspiring engineers from Maryland. And experts in Internet crime caution that the app is just one of many digital platforms abused by all manner of criminals, from small-time drug dealers to terrorists.

But law enforcement officials say Kik — used by 40 percent of American teenagers, by the company’s own estimate — goes further than most widely used apps in shielding its users from view, often making it hard for investigators to know who is using it, or how. (Yik Yak is another popular app under fire for its use of anonymous messages.)

“Kik is the problem app of the moment,” said David Frattare, commander of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which includes hundreds of law enforcement agencies. “We tell parents about Kik, and to them it’s some earth-shattering news, and then it turns out it’s been on their kid’s phone for months and months. And as a law enforcement agency, the information that we can get from Kik is extremely limited.”

Kik’s appeal to young people goes far beyond anonymity. Teenagers like its special emoji and other features. It offers free and unlimited texting. And like AOL Instant Messenger and MySpace before it, Kik is a space that parents are unlikely to know about. But it is also place where inappropriate sexual content and behavior can flourish.

Cases involving Kik in just the past 10 days include:

■A St. Louis man charged with using Kik to exchange child pornography.

■A western New York man charged with finding a 14-year-old girl through Kik and, posing as a teenager, sending her sexually explicit messages and trying to get her to meet him.

■An Alabama man charged with statutory rape and the attempted kidnapping of a 14-year-old girl he contacted on Kik.

■A Colorado man charged with taking a 13-year-old Connecticut girl to a hotel and sexually assaulting her, after chatting and arranging the meeting on Kik.

“The Kik app has become so popular, it’s probably the one where law enforcement has seen the most activity,” said Leslie Rutledge, the Arkansas attorney general, who issued a public plea last year to parents in her state to educate themselves about their children’s online habits after two Arkansas men used Kik to solicit nude photos from under-age girls — and an undercover investigator.
Founded in 2009 and based in Canada, Kik aspires to become the Western version of WeChat, the hugely successful messaging service in China that offers free texting, e-commerce and content delivery. Its main appeal is privacy and anonymity: The app is free, and allows people to find strangers and communicate with them anonymously, through a user name.

“We view user names and anonymity as a safe way to connect with people you meet on the Internet,” said Rod McLeod, a spokesman for Kik.

The company is taking a variety of steps, including sponsoring an annual conference on crimes against children and posting a law enforcement guide on its website, to “assist in preventing child exploitation,” said Lisa van Heugten, who was hired two years ago and helped form a special Kik division devoted to fielding law enforcement requests.

Kik estimates that it has 275 million users worldwide, with 70 percent of them in the United States. But the very anonymity and secrecy that make Kik appealing also pose serious challenges for law enforcement. The app asks for the user’s real name and email address, but it works even if those are fictitious, and the user does not have to supply a phone number.
Unlike some competing apps, Kik says it does not have the ability to view written messages between users, or to show them to the police. It can view pictures and videos, but retains them only until the recipient’s device has received the message. Those practices are legal.

With a court order or in a dire emergency — as in Nicole’s death — the company can provide the authorities with a log of a user’s sent and received messages, and in some cases can supply the user’s Internet protocol address, giving a physical location.

In deciding what information to store, the company says, it aims to “strike a balance” between “protecting user privacy and the need to remove bad actors from our platform and assist law enforcement.”

But Kik says it can find users on its system with only a user name. And because Kik is based in Canada, law enforcement officials say, it can be a slow process. Requests have to go through the United States Justice Department.

“They’ve assisted us in a lot of our cases,” said Detective Josh Woodhams of the Bentonville, Ark., Police Department. “But when it comes to the content of conversations, they don’t retain information including photos and videos. So it makes it tough for us.”

Law enforcement officials say they often run across Kik in cases of “sextortion,” or blackmail, in which a sexual predator coaxes a young person to send nude photos — and then threatens to post the photos online, or alert the child’s parents or harm the child, if he or she does not send more.

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire said research suggests that social media has not spawned an uptick in violent crimes involving children, but cases involving pornography are on the rise. So are arrests.

 

Professor Finkelhor cautions against “technophobia,” saying character traits — not technology — make young people vulnerable. Those who are socially isolated, who have conflict with their parents, who are bullied in school or who are depressed are “at higher risk,” he said, “both in face-to-face and electronic environments.”

Those risk factors were clearly present in the abduction in Virginia of Nicole Madison Lovell, whose mother, Tammy Weeks, has said she was bullied in school, in part because of the tracheotomy scar she bore from her liver transplant.

And they were a factor in a November case involving Kik in Ohio, where a 15-year-old girl got in a car with a man she knew only through Kik, who drove her more than 500 miles from her home in Cleveland.

Almost a month later, the police and F.B.I. burst into a house in Missouri, freed the girl and arrested the man they said had held her captive, raped her and video-recorded the act. After her rescue she spoke out on the “Dr. Phil” show, which hid her identity. She said she had been mourning the death of her stepfather, and was upset that her mother had moved in with a boyfriend.

On Kik, she found someone, claiming to be a man in his 20s, who offered her help and gave her the attention she craved, she said.

That man, law enforcement officials said, was Christopher D. Schroeder, 41. He destroyed her phone, according to the F.B.I., and drove her to his home in Marthasville, a small town west of St. Louis.

With her phone gone, there was no way for the police to track the girl’s movements or tie her to the man. But weeks later, law enforcement officials said, her abductor got cocky and careless and, posing as the girl on a Facebook account, he contacted her friends. With help from Facebook, investigators read the messages and tracked down Mr. Schroeder, who has pleaded not guilty to charges in federal and state court.

Investigators learned only later that the girl had met Mr. Schroeder on Kik. Asked about the odds of finding her if the man had not gone onto Facebook, Mr. Frattare, of the Ohio crime task force, said, “In my opinion, it would have been slim to none.”

App Makers Reach Out to the Teenager on Mobile

Here’s an interesting article on the social media habits of teenagers.  It is important for us to remember that middle school students have a strong desire to stay connected to their friends and classmates, and that social media is one of the prime vehicles for connections and affirmation.  The 24/7 nature of social media certainly makes it extra challenging to be a teenager – there’s no vacation from the pressure on the girls to present themselves positively online.  Dave

The New York Times
By CONOR DOUGHERTY JAN. 1, 2016

 

Over the past decade, advertisers have spent untold millions trying to turn Talia Kocar and her peers in the millennial generation into loyal customers. But on a recent afternoon in Santa Monica, Calif., in a kind of consumer torch-passing, Ms. Kocar, 25, watched a focus group of teenagers drink free Snapple and suck Doritos powder off their thumbs while answering questions about their smartphones.

Ms. Kocar works on Wishbone, a social networking application full of breezy polls about pop culture, prom dresses and other fixtures of teenage life. Users — most of them girls — post side-by-side pictures that compare rappers (Lil Wayne or Tyga?), celebrities (Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé?) and the like.

Like most social media apps, Wishbone users achieve status by amassing friends who vote with a thumb tap. There is a bonus, however, which is that twice a day, Ms. Kocar and her team send a “Daily Dozen” of the best and most popular polls to every Wishbone user. This is somewhat like being named “funniest” or “most clever” in a yearbook: Featured polls are guaranteed a lot of votes, and votes, similar to likes on Facebook, are the coin of Wishbone’s realm.
Ms. Kocar said her first attempts at market research began with trips to Starbucks stores and nail salons, where she would find Wishbone users and ask them what they did and did not like about the app. She got lots of information, but wanted more. Hence, the focus group.

Teenagers being teenagers, the room was full of angst and contradictions. They love Instagram, the photo-sharing app, but are terrified their posts will be ignored or mocked. They feel less pressure on Snapchat, the disappearing-message service, but say Snapchat can be annoying because disappearing messages make it hard to follow a continuing conversation. They do not like advertisements but also do not like to pay for things.

At one point a questioner asked the group when they were least likely to be online. “When I’m in the shower,” a girl responded.

Nobody laughed, because it was barely an exaggeration. About three-quarters of United States teenagers have access to a mobile phone, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Most go online daily and about a quarter of them use the Internet “almost constantly.”

Those numbers have created a growing advertising market and fortunes for apps like Snapchat and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. This year companies are projected to spend $30 billion on in-app advertising in the United States, roughly double what they spent in 2014, according to eMarketer, a research company.

But even though these services all have the same core functions — find friends, post pictures, send messages — teenagers juggle them constantly, developing arcane customs for what to post where and ditching one app for another the moment it becomes uncool.

That churn leaves an opening for upstarts like Wishbone, which is about a year old and already has about three million monthly users. Since July it has ranked among the top 30 most-downloaded social media apps in Apple’s App Store, according to App Annie, a data and analytics company. But staying there will be tough. Mobile apps are a hit or miss business in which a handful of top players get most of the users and money.

 

Hoping to get their app in that elite few, people like Ms. Kocar pore through data and turn to focus groups for insight on how to get new users to sign up and old users to stay. Their efforts are a window into how teenage lives are documented on mobile screens.

“They have immediate social validation or lack of validation at the touch of a button,” said Michael Jones, chief executive of Science Inc., which owns Wishbone. “So if you thought that the immediate gratification generation was two generations ago, you haven’t even seen what immediate gratification looks like until you start spending time with, like, a teen on a phone.”

A Daily Rotation of Apps

One hot afternoon last summer, Leila Khan and Lucy Nemerov, two eighth graders from Palo Alto, Calif., cruised their local mall, scoring free samples at See’s Candies and dropping into Brandy Melville to look at clothes, but not buy. Lucy is an avid Wishbone user, but the app is just one among several that she and her friends rotate through each day.

To manage their identities in and obligations to this world in their pockets, they adhere to rules that have somehow been absorbed and adopted by their peers. For instance, that afternoon, since nothing particularly special happened, Lucy posted a few videos to Snapchat — including a clip of me interviewing her — but nothing on Instagram.

Why the distinction? Because Instagram is special, Leila explained. On Snapchat, where messages disappear, you can be less selective because there is a lower bar for quality. On Instagram, you have to be careful not to clog your friends’ feeds with a barrage of low-quality pictures that might annoy them.

They also regularly delete their Instagram photos so that their profiles never have more than a handful at a time. For comparison, I’m a medium-level Instagram user and have several hundred. They reacted to this information as if it were the smell of warm garbage.

“I have zero right now,” Lucy said.

“Yeah, ’cause I’m like, ‘Oh wait, I look stupid in this one,’ ” Leila said.

Some of Leila’s rules for Instagram include never posting more than one photo a week, avoiding photo filters (too fake) and hashtags (too desperate). She tries to find a timely occasion to post — such as National Watermelon Day — and is so concerned about having the right caption that she keeps a running list of ideas on her iPhone. Neither girl had any such rules for Facebook, because they hardly use it.

App makers fear this kind of juggling the way TV networks fear DVRs. Each time someone leaves one app for another, there is a chance that user will never come back. And since apps make money only when users are plugged in and absorbing ads, the number of monthly users is less important than how many users they get each day — and how long they stay.
Social media apps and messaging services — Wishbone included — tend to get an outsize portion of their ad revenue from a handful of mobile game makers and other app download ads. But Wishbone is making the not-terribly-crazy bet that as people spend more time with their phones and advertisers become comfortable with the medium, more brands and money will follow.

 

For now big advertisers remain focused on the millennial generation, who, at about 18 to 35 years old, are old enough to buy cars, homes and other big-ticket items. But an early wave is starting to think about the next group, said Erna Alfred Liousas, an analyst at Forrester Research, who said the firm had a number of financial services and media companies ask for studies on the under-17 group.

As with coffee and newspapers, the key to a successful app is to make it a daily habit. Which is why in early September, Mr. Jones of Science sat in a cinder block room staring at a computer screen full of data. He was with Benoit Vatere, head of Science’s mobile group, and Peter Pham, the company’s chief business officer, discussing the best time to send push notifications alerting Wishbone users to new polls.

Push notifications — those incessant reminders that make your phone light up and ding — are the infantry of app warfare, cracking the attention span to remind users that someone on the Internet might be talking about them. All summer Wishbone had been sending out alerts four times a day, but the three men were thinking about adding more and, now that students were back in class, trying to recalibrate around the school day.

“Can we have a friends feed at noon?” Mr. Jones asked Mr. Vatere. “It would be great to do ‘Your friends have updated.’ ”

“And you talk about it while you’re at school,” Mr. Pham added.

Every generation has its thing, and the last two have been marked by digital technology. One of the big dividing lines between Generation X and millennials was that millennials grew up with the Internet. A big difference between millennials and the next group — the postmillennials — has been smartphones.

Economic and cultural changes have an even larger influence, argues Neil Howe, an author and historian who is credited with coining the term “millennial generation.” The Great Recession and its aftermath are likely to make the postmillennial generation more risk-averse, he said. At the same time, today’s kids have absorbed lots of parental advice about online safety and bullying.

“There’s a whole new curriculum being pushed by Gen X parents and one thing it emphasizes above all is emotional intelligence and being very sensitive to the needs of others,” Mr. Howe said.

In surveys, his consulting company, LifeCourse Associates, has found that teenagers are extremely anxious about being criticized on social media and are more conscious than their parents of when an app makes them feel bad — or at least aren’t bashful about saying so.

During the recent focus group at Science, one girl said she showed Instagram ideas to at least three people before posting. Another said she deleted any post that did not garner enough likes. “I post and I just delete, because I don’t want to have, like, never mind,” she said, too ashamed to announce the precise number of likes out loud.

Wishbone sees those anxieties as an opportunity. The app doesn’t ask users to take pictures in which they look “sooo beautiful!!!!,” nor does it require having parents who vacation in Instagram-perfect locales. Users just make funny polls to talk about celebrities, makeup and bands. It is about your tastes, not your identity.

 

Rajada Victor, a 14-year-old ninth grader who lives in Los Angeles, was seated near the girl who was ashamed of her paltry likes. In a follow-up interview, she said she had grown exhausted by the frenzy for online status but was a regular on Wishbone, which she checks all the time: in class, while walking to school, on weekends.

“I like the fact that you don’t have to look a certain type of way to post,” she said. “People don’t comment rudely or anything — you’re just comparing stuff.”

Mr. Vatere can see this in the data: Wishbone users frequently describe themselves by their interests — they might like Taylor Swift, for instance — but rarely post personal photos. The app also employs an “everyone gets a trophy” philosophy by having Ms. Kocar and her editorial team choose many different polls, not just the most popular ones, for the coveted Daily Dozen of posts that all Wishbone users vote on.

“You want to create an environment where it doesn’t feel like only 1 percent of the people win,” said Eric Kuhn, Science’s head of product. “And we’ve heard that with other platforms, like as soon as you’re clearly not in that top 1 percent, you don’t want to use the app anymore.”

Some Facts and a Hunch

 

Michael Jones, chief executive of Science Inc. Science owns Wishbone, a social networking app centered on polls. “If you thought that the immediate gratification generation was two generations ago, you haven’t even seen what immediate gratification looks like until you start spending time with, like, a teen on a phone.”
He spent the next two decades tracking the migration of media to the web, to social platforms to mobile phones. Elixir became a website and, as Mr. Jones got more interested in the web than publishing, he started a software company called Userplane that was bought by AOL.

Later Mr. Jones was the chief executive of MySpace, where his job was to try to blunt the ascendance of a new competitor called Facebook. This did not go well.

He founded Science four years ago with Mr. Pham. He calls it a “start-up studio” that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Wishbone is part of Science’s mobile group — which includes several other apps — but Mr. Jones is so enamored with social media that he decided to run the group and Wishbone himself. The Science offices are just a few blocks from the beach in Santa Monica and have requisite start-up touches like exposed ceilings, copious whiteboards and employees who toil quietly while wearing Beats headphones.

Science has raised about $40 million in venture capital, most of it from Hearst Ventures. After the MySpace debacle, Mr. Jones said he initially steered clear of social media and focused on building online commerce businesses such as Dollar Shave Club, a razor subscription service, and DogVacay, a dog-boarding version of Airbnb, the online home-rental service.

“Coming out of MySpace I was like, ahhh, this is so hard — social ads is tough,” he said. “Let’s just take a pause.”

As social media moved to mobile phones, Mr. Jones figured there would be a chance to get back in. Wishbone came out of a few facts and a hunch. The facts are that people spend several hours a day on their phones, and that teenagers favor apps in which everyone gets to create content and be part of the show.

 

The hunch was that a polling app would do well. Mr. Jones knew from his AOL days that polling was among the most addictive of online features. And since successful mobile apps reward repetitive behavior, he figured polling would translate well to smartphones.

If Wishbone were almost anything besides an app, three million users would be a huge success. But apps are a brutal business, where a few gigantic hits like Facebook and YouTube make most of the money. American smartphone owners use about 27 apps per month, but spend about 80 percent of their time in five, according to a recent study by Activate, a consulting firm.

And even the winners can’t rest for long. Facebook, the biggest social network, has tried to defend its top position by buying or trying to buy rival apps as they break through. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat, but was spurned.

Four years ago the company spent $1 billion to buy Instagram, which at the time had a dozen employees and about 30 million monthly users. Today Instagram has more than 400 million, about a quarter of Facebook’s users.

Wishbone is a long way from that top tier, which is why employees show up to meetings with laptops full of statistics about what teenagers are doing. And it is why they spend time running focus groups.

Right around Thanksgiving, Mr. Jones, Mr. Pham and Mr. Vatere started rethinking their strategy for sending out push notifications. All through the summer and fall they had been limiting the number of daily alerts on the assumption that, like them, Wishbone users would be annoyed if they were interrupted by too many pings and dings. And, as one might expect when three fathers make an assumption about teenage girls, they could not have been more wrong.

“We talked to them and they’d be like, ‘Why am I not getting notified when people vote on my stuff?’ ” Mr. Jones said. “And we’d be like, ‘Well, we wouldn’t want to do that ’cause we might send you, like, 50 notifications that you got 50 of your friends to vote on your card.’ They’re like, ‘But that’s what I want.’ ”

“In fact,” Mr. Jones said, “they would even kind of subtly infer that if they didn’t get at least 50, it was kind of like a bad day.”

The same way Gen X measured its worth in answering machine messages, the mobile-minded teenager sees each like and mention as reassurance of an active social life. And when your phone is the default security blanket for enduring the awkwardness of walking a high school hallway, it feels nice to have a bunch of digital hellos ready with a swipe.

So just before Thanksgiving weekend, Wishbone opened the fire hose, sending out notifications for everything — every vote, every mention, everything that has to do with a user on the app. A week later they found several key metrics, like voting, had almost doubled.

One might ask if teenagers need another distraction. In a recent survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit research group, half of teenagers said they watched TV while doing their homework, while 60 percent said they texted and three-quarters said they listened to music.

Those in the Wishbone focus group said they loved getting notifications but acknowledged getting lost in their phones. One girl said that it had come to the point that the only way she could finish her homework was to put her phone in another room.

“Sometimes it’s fun ’cause it’s like people are thinking about you and are like, ‘I want to show this to Jada,’ ” said Rajada Victor, the ninth grader in Los Angeles, who goes by Jada. But, she also said, she tries not to become caught up in worrying about social media.

“I’m focusing on my grades and all that stuff,” she said.

And that’s the thing about teenagers: They grow up.

Hundreds of Nude Photos Jolt Colorado School

The New York Times

Here’s a good reminder of the need to be involved in your daughter’s use of her cell phone.  We recommend having your daughter’s passwords, and approving all app downloads – even free apps.  Dave

By KASSONDRA CLOOS and JULIE TURKEWITZNOV. 6, 2015
Photo

 

CAÑON CITY, Colo. — At least 100 students at a high school in Cañon City traded naked pictures of themselves, the authorities said Friday, part of a large sexting ring.

The revelation has left parents outraged, administrators searching for missed clues, and the police and the district attorney’s office debating whether to file child pornography charges — including felony charges — against some of the participants.

George Welsh, the superintendent of the Cañon City school system, said students at Cañon City High School had been circulating 300 to 400 nude photographs, including images of “certainly over 100 different kids,” on their cellphones. “This is a lot of kids involved,” he said, adding that the children in the pictures were believed to be students at the high school as well as eighth graders from the middle school.

Screenshots show two types of The Vault Apps That Keep Sexts a SecretNOV. 6, 2015
Members of the high school football team, the Cañon City Tigers, were at the center of the sexting ring, Mr. Welsh said. On Thursday night, separate community meetings were held for parents of football players and parents of other students to address the scandal, which has shocked this quiet, semirural community of 16,000. The team was forced to forfeit its final game of the season.
Because it is a felony to possess or distribute child pornography, the charges could be serious. But because most of the people at fault are themselves minors and, in some cases, took pictures of themselves and sent them to others, law enforcement officials are at a loss as to how to proceed. “Consenting adults can do this to their hearts’ content,” said Thom LeDoux, the district attorney, but “if the subject is under the age of 18, that’s a problem.”

He added that he was not interested in arresting hundreds of children and would “use discretion” if he decided to file charges.

Mr. Welsh said a significant percentage of the student body at Cañon City High School had participated, with boys and girls involved in seemingly equal numbers. The photo-sharing, some of which took place in school, was done largely on cellphone applications called “vault apps” that look innocent enough — some look like calculators — but are really secret troves of photographs accessible after entering a password.

While sexting among children is a rampant problem, “I hope no other school has it at the level we have it at,” Bret Meuli, the principal of Cañon City High School, said in an interview in his office. “But I fear we aren’t the only ones.”

Students at the school described a competitive point system that classmates used to accrue photographs. Different point values were assigned to different students. Students who collected naked photographs gained points by adding these desirable children to their collections. Isaac Stringer, a junior interviewed outside the high school who said he did not participate in the photo-sharing, called the boy with the largest collection “the pimp of pictures.”

The repercussions are likely to resonate loudly over the days and weeks ahead in this small town, a tightly knit community ringed by correctional centers, where many people are employed, as well as tourist attractions such as Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, which claims to have “America’s highest suspension bridge.”

 

Mr. Welsh, the superintendent, said in a statement that “because a large number of our high school football players were implicated in this behavior, the coaching staff and administration, after careful thought and consideration, decided that stepping on the field to play this weekend to represent the Cañon City community is just not an option.”

The “sexting scandal,” as parents are calling it, shocked many, and it has also elicited anger from parents who say they knew about this type of photo-sharing for years and sought unsuccessfully to get school officials to intervene. Heidi Wolfgang, 41, a mother who no longer lives in the district, said in a telephone interview that she had spoken to a Cañon City Middle School counselor in 2012 after she found photographs of a nude adolescent on a cellphone owned by her daughter, then 12.

“He told me there was nothing the school could do because half the school was sexting,” Ms. Wolfgang said. She called the response “heartbreaking,” and said she eventually decided to educate her child at home.

Mr. Welsh said that like other school systems across the country, Cañon City schools had received reports of students’ exchanging lewd photographs, but that he had not been aware of the scope of the issue until recently, when officials received anonymous tips through a system called Colorado Safe2Tell.

“If there’s not a lead that takes you to this larger thing going on, why would you go there?” Mr. Welsh said.

Another mother, Lisa Graham, 46, said her daughter, now a junior at the high school, had been “propositioned by multiple guys” during her freshman year. “She received unsolicited photos from guys, which she immediately deleted,” Ms. Graham said by telephone. “I’m frustrated if people knew and didn’t shut it down three years ago.”

Mr. Meuli has been principal for six years, and he was assistant principal of the school before that. He said that the school had had to handle a few instances in which a girl would break up with a boy and fear that he would circulate intimate photos of her, but that nothing this serious had been brought to his attention before.

What to do about a sexting scandal involving potentially hundreds of students was not covered in his master’s degree classes, Mr. Meuli said — but these days, it should be, he added.

The high school has turned over a cellphone that contains several hundred images to the police, and investigators will try to identify the children in the pictures, according to Paul Schultz, the Cañon City police chief. No arrests have been made, Chief Schultz said, and parents have been notified about the apps that can be used to mask the illicit photographs.

Mr. LeDoux, the district attorney, said the investigation would look into whether any adults were involved, whether children were bullied into participating, and whether any illegal sexual contact occurred.

Amy Adele Hasinoff, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver and the author of a new book, “Sexting Panic,” contends that schools need to find new ways to talk to students about the issue. Rather than just demanding that students abstain from sending risqué images, she said, educators should aim for open conversations that involve guidance in “safer sexting” with trusted partners.

Teachers and school officials “think they’re protecting people from harm,” Professor Hasinoff said. “But we know it doesn’t work.”

Is There an App for That?

Harvard Magazine

THE LOST GENERATION. The Greatest Generation. Generation X. And now…the App Generation.

“Are kids growing up in the digital age really different?” asks Howard Gardner, Hobbs professor of cognition and education. Six years ago, he and then-student Katie Davis, Ed.D. ’11 (now an assistant professor at the University of Washington) set out to explore the question, and in their new book, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World (Yale), they argue that the answer is unambiguously yes.

“This is a generation that expects and wants to have applications,” says Gardner. Applications, more commonly known as apps, are shortcuts designed for accomplishing specific tasks. They’re ubiquitous, powerful, and strongly structured, and the authors argue that they’re changing the way we think. “Young people growing up in our time are not only immersed in apps,” they write, “they’ve come to think of the world as an ensemble of apps, to see their lives as a string of ordered apps, or perhaps, in many cases, a single, extended, cradle-to-grave app.”

The app mindset, they say, motivates youth to seek direct, quick, easy solutions—the kinds of answers an app would provide—and to shy away from questions, whether or large or small, when there’s no “app for that.” In a wide-ranging cultural critique, the authors identify myriad resulting effects loosely structured around three of the stages of psychosocial development proposed by Gardner’s mentor Erik Erikson in 1950—here called identity, intimacy, and imagination.

They investigated the first two themes primarily through interviews with adolescents and focus groups of adults who work with teens. In terms of identity, Gardner and Davis argue that youth today are polished and packaged, in line with the cool, suave look of online profiles. In “Reflecting on Your Life” sessions with Harvard freshmen (see “The Most Important Course,” May-June 2011, page 56), Gardner writes, he encountered students “with their lives all mapped out—a super-app.” But the external polish often hides deep-seated anxiety, outwardly expressed as a need for approval. In their conversations with camp counselors and teachers, Gardner and Davis were repeatedly told that youth today are risk-averse; the app generation, said one focus group participant, is “scared to death.”

In exploring intimacy, Gardner and Davis saw repeated signs of greater isolation. Although social media can enhance friendships and family relationships, digital media can give the impression of closeness while promoting only shallow connections. Online relationships are often conducted at arm’s length, allowing youth to avoid the deeper emotional investment and vulnerability of more complicated, in-person relationships. (This emotional distance can also facilitate racist and sexist language that would be unacceptable in person.)

The book’s most unexpected results come from its study of imagination. Prompted by Gardner’s curiosity about how his high-school literary magazine might have changed in the 50 years since he was editor, the authors examined hundreds of samples of adolescent visual art and fiction between 1990 and 2010. Using a blind coding scheme to measure changes in topics such as subject, composition, and narrative flow, the authors concluded that graphic art has become more imaginative and diverse in the past 20 years, whereas creative writing has shown the opposite trend.

Though they acknowledged that all of their work is correlative, not causative, they speculated that the difference may reflect the emergence of online communities like deviantART and tools like Photoshop that increase amateur engagement with graphic media; in contrast, instant messaging and texting have largely supplanted more formal, written communications. The authors suggest that digital tools promote what they call “middle c” creativity, between the “little c” creativity of everyday problem-solving and the “Big C” of groundbreaking achievements. Though software may lower the bar for creative engagement, they write, users may never move beyond the tools’ inherent limitations.

“When do things that are optional become blinkers on how we see the world?” asks Gardner. He and Davis argue that people can be app-enabled, using apps as tools to eliminate tedious tasks and catalyze new forms of exploration, or app-dependent, relying heavily on the available tools as a substitute for skill and reflection. And the authors argue that automation itself is a dual-edged sword. “Who decides what is important?” they write. “And where do we draw the line between an operation”—using a GPS to navigate to Boston’s North End, for instance—“and the content on which the operation is carried out?”—orienting oneself in the city. Gardner points out that many of today’s teens have never been lost, either literally or metaphorically, and that many don’t even see the point of a “random walk,” an experience that he argues can build independence and resilience.

Apps are here to stay, the authors make clear, and the question now is how to make use of them in a productive, creative way. As an educator, Gardner favors what he calls a “constructivist” approach to learning—in which knowledge is acquired through exploration—and he believes that apps, by shortcutting discovery, can diminish this engagement with the world. Before downloading an app, he says, people should ask themselves what they would do without it: if they had to obtain directions or contact a friend, for instance, without a smartphone. “Even though a well-demonstrated toy or well-designed app has its virtues,” he and Davis write, “there is also virtue—and even reward—in figuring out things for yourself on your own time, in your own way.”

Girl’s Suicide Points to Rise in Apps Used by Cyberbullies

The New York Times

A disturbing article about a middle school aged girl in Florida.  A good reminder to have conversations with your daughters about their use of social media, especially ask.fm, Instagram and Snapchat.  All are invited to attend Middle School Technology Night on Monday, September 16 at 7 pm for more information on the topic.

Brian Blanco for The New York Times

A memorial for 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick has sprouted at the abandoned cement plant in Lakeland, Fla., where she committed suicide.

By 
Published: September 13, 2013 723 Comments

MIAMI — The clues were buried in her bedroom. Before leaving for school on Monday morning, Rebecca Ann Sedwick had hidden her schoolbooks under a pile of clothes and left her cellphone behind, a rare lapse for a 12-year-old girl.

Rebecca Sedwick

Lance Speere for The New York Times

Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, said she had no idea that her daughter, who died this week, was being cyberbullied by about 15 middle-school children, a problem that first arose and was addressed last year.

Inside her phone’s virtual world, she had changed her user name on Kik Messenger, a cellphone application, to “That Dead Girl” and delivered a message to two friends, saying goodbye forever. Then she climbed a platform at an abandoned cement plant near her home in the Central Florida city of Lakeland and leaped to the ground, the Polk County sheriff said.

In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships.

For more than a year, Rebecca, pretty and smart, was cyberbullied by a coterie of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself, her mother said. The Polk County sheriff’s office is investigating the role of cyberbullying in the suicide and considering filing charges against the middle-school students who apparently barraged Rebecca with hostile text messages. Florida passed a law this year making it easier to bring felony charges in online bullying cases.

Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media,” Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said at a news conference this week.

Along with her grief, Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, faces the frustration of wondering what else she could have done. She complained to school officials for several months about the bullying, and when little changed, she pulled Rebecca out of school. She closed down her daughter’s Facebook page and took her cellphone away. She changed her number. Rebecca was so distraught in December that she began to cut herself, so her mother had her hospitalized and got her counseling. As best she could, Ms. Norman said, she kept tabs on Rebecca’s social media footprint.

It all seemed to be working, she said. Rebecca appeared content at her new school as a seventh grader. She was gearing up to audition for chorus and was considering slipping into her cheerleading uniform once again. But unknown to her mother, Rebecca had recently signed on to new applications — ask.fm, and Kik and Voxer — which kick-started the messaging and bullying once again.

“I had never even heard of them; I did go through her phone but didn’t even know,” said Ms. Norman, 42, who works in customer service. “I had no reason to even think that anything was going on. She was laughing and joking.”

Sheriff Judd said Rebecca had been using these messaging applications to send and receive texts and photographs. His office showed Ms. Norman the messages and photos, including one of Rebecca with razor blades on her arms and cuts on her body. The texts were full of hate, her mother said: “Why are you still alive?” “You’re ugly.”

One said, “Can u die please?” To which Rebecca responded, with a flash of resilience, “Nope but I can live.” Her family said the bullying began with a dispute over a boy Rebecca dated for a while. But Rebecca had stopped seeing him, they said.

Rebecca was not nearly as resilient as she was letting on. Not long before her death, she had clicked on questions online that explored suicide. “How many Advil do you have to take to die?”

In hindsight, Ms. Norman wonders whether Rebecca kept her distress from her family because she feared her mother might take away her cellphone again.

“Maybe she thought she could handle it on her own,” Ms. Norman said.

It is impossible to be certain what role the online abuse may have played in her death. But cyberbullying experts said cellphone messaging applications are proliferating so quickly that it is increasingly difficult for parents to keep pace with their children’s complex digital lives.

“It’s a whole new culture, and the thing is that as adults, we don’t know anything about it because it’s changing every single day,” said Denise Marzullo, the chief executive of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville, who works with the schools there on bullying issues.

No sooner has a parent deciphered Facebook or Twitter or Instagram than his or her children have migrated to the latest frontier. “It’s all of these small ones where all this is happening,” Ms. Marzullo said.

In Britain, a number of suicides by young people have been linked to ask.fm, and online petitions have been started there and here to make the site more responsive to bullying. The company ultimately responded this year by introducing an easy-to-see button to report bullying and saying it would hire more moderators.

“You hear about this all the time,” Ms. Norman said of cyberbullying. “I never, ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”

Questions have also been raised about whether Rebecca’s old school, Crystal Lake Middle School, did enough last year to help stop the bullying; some of it, including pushing and hitting, took place on school grounds. The same students also appear to be involved in sending out the hate-filled online messages away from school, something schools can also address.

Nancy Woolcock, the assistant superintendent in charge of antibullying programs for Polk County Schools, said the school received one bullying complaint from Rebecca and her mother in December about traditional bullying, not cyberbullying. After law enforcement investigated, Rebecca’s class schedule was changed. Ms. Woolcock said the school also has an extensive antibullying campaign and takes reports seriously.

But Ms. Norman said the school should have done more. Officials told her that Rebecca would receive an escort as she switched classes, but that did not happen, she said.

Rebecca never boarded her school bus on Monday morning. She made her way to the abandoned Cemex plant about 10 minutes away from her modest mobile home; the plant was a place she had used as a getaway a few times when she wanted to vanish. Somehow, she got past the high chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, which is now a memorial, with teddy bears, candles and balloons. She climbed a tower and then jumped.

“Don’t ignore your kids,” Ms. Norman said, “even if they seem fine.”

Lance Speere contributed reporting from Lakeland, Fla., and Alan Blinder from Atlanta.