How Do You Begin the End?

This is my final post.

It’s been a year or so since I took a break from the Interwebs–away from writing online, from traveling and speaking, from Tweeting and Facebooking and Snapchatting and the like. Pregnancy was such a lovely season, and truly a miracle. Our baby girl, Charlotte, was born perfectly happy and healthy in July 2016. She’s almost 10 months old now, trying to scoot around the house on her bottom (unsuccessfully), with 8 teeth she definitely earned the right to show off. She’s coming into her own, a little drama queen human who I can’t believe just a year ago was the size of a cantaloupe, tucked away in utero, kicking my bladder, my kidneys, and everything in between.

When I was in high school, I wanted to get a Ph.D. in psychology and become a doctor of sorts, a clinical psychologist. Life didn’t head down that road like I expected, and instead, I ended up working at churches, writing a few books, and traveling all over the world to share stories. In 2010, after my divorce, I considered going to medical school but knew I would likely have to sacrifice having a family to start a career in medicine at the age of 30. Three years later, I met and married my dear husband Tim. Medicine as a career was still ever on my mind, but there were books to write and events to speak at. Then sweet Charlotte came along.

When my most recent book released a year ago, I had a feeling it would be the last. I was still under contract to write another one with Baker, but nothing surfaced in my heart that I had to write about. I waited, they waited, and still, nothing came.

Why put more words out into the world that’s overwhelmed by words, when nothing needs to be said?

I graciously asked if I could exit my contract and they graciously agreed.

The season of life when I am an author, a speaker, a blogger–the season when I knew something needed to be said and I was sure I was the one to say it–is over. There have been moments of grief, of saying goodbye, but overall, it has been the most peaceful, sure, and easiest transition I’ve ever made.

I’m heading into a new season now, and have been for a while. I’m in nursing school with the end goal of being a nurse practitioner in geriatric psychiatry. I realize that’s pretty far off from where I started ten years ago, but I think I needed to learn more about God, about people, and about myself to end up here.

I’m thrilled.

The purpose I used to feel as an author and speaker has drained away over the last few years and this passion in nursing has taken its place and is overflowing.

Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me to speak into your life over the last twelve (!!) years of blogging. Thank you for encouraging me, supporting me, buying books, giving literally millions of dollars to very worthy organizations. Thank you for sponsoring Compassion kids, for praying for me, for us, and sharing your stories.

There’s a commonly asked question: If you had to say one thing, to leave people with one thought, what would it be? 

I’d have to say this:

  • It’s okay to not be okay.
  • It’s okay to be different, to not fit in.
  • It’s okay to quit and begin again (and again and again and again).
  • You are worth so much more than you could ever imagine in your wildest dreams.
  • Sometimes the quietest lives love the loudest.

I guess that’s five things, so I’ll ask for your forgiveness and thank you for humoring me one last time.

It’s been a gift. You’ve been a gift. You are a gift.

With love,
Anne

May It Be Light and Only Light

light

It has been three months since I said farewell to social media, sans a quick break to introduce our daughter to you.

Those three months-they have been enough. They have been enough to show me that I need more, which by writing you in simple words sounds selfish.

We want God to speak to us, so we become quiet. We wait until we hear whatever words we are supposed to hear. Sometimes those words are revealed quickly; often, they are shown to us letter by letter. And other times, the thing we hear is that we are to remain listening.

I returned to one of my favorite reads recently, Echoing Silence, by Merton. In this collection of letters and pages from his journals and books (collected and published posthumously), he walks through the tension of writing, his spirituality, suffering, ego, and vocation. Two passages in particular struck me:

“If the inspiration is helpless without a correspondingly effective technique, technique is barren without inspiration.” (October 24, 1958)

…and

“The best thing for me is a lucid silence that does not even imagine it speaks to anybody. A silence which I see no interlocutor, frame no message for anyone, formulate no word either for man or paper. There will still be plenty to say when the time comes to write, and what is written will be simpler and more fruitful.” (December 14, 1949)

I am grateful for Merton’s removing himself from distractions and entering into a time of soul-silence. I doubt he knew or even wished that within his silence, he was communicating a message stronger than the power any written word could possibly create: an example.

(To note: most of his writings about entering into silence were in autumn and winter; perhaps it is designed in our warm blood to hibernate for a while.)

A scattered few friends of mine are taking brief vows of Internet silence. For some, it is the first time. For many, it won’t be the last. I have debated if these seasons of silence are a giving into self-indulgent isolation. After time and examination, please believe me that is not the case.

During his time at the monastery in Kentucky, Merton wrote letters to friends and spiritual counselors, politicians, and artists near and far. He went to Mass, he worked alongside fellow monks, took Eucharist, and kept mostly to the hours.

In the same manner, I tend to my private world of family and friends and community. Letters are shared between kindred spirits, encouraging one another in good works and glory. My days disappear into nights–and back again to dawn…to dusk…and so on–as I feel the grit in my spirit searching for an unfamiliar worship in the quotidian mysteries that occupy my time as of late.

It is hard. It is good.

I will not renounce ever returning to this space, just as Merton “refused and had practically ceased to desire” writing again, God “gave [him] back the vocation that [he] had half-consciously given up, and He opened to [him] again the doors that had fallen shut.” (1976)

But for now, may the only message I give you be one that I cannot speak or write.

May it be light, and only light.

Silentium coelorum sit mihi lex: et vita mea imago luminis.
(Let the silence of heaven be my law: and my life an image of light. – Merton, 1952)

Seasons

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Pregnancy has been one of the most beautiful, difficult, spiritually growing, ego-shrinking seasons. With only three weeks left, give or take, I’ve been caught in the tension of grief – missing the secret kicks and rolls – and of anticipation, waiting to meet this baby and put it to my chest, to see Tim hold this fatty blob of wrinkles and cries. I’m also looking forward to being able to get out of bed without the effort of a crane helping me.

All this to say, in the recent quiet moments of introspection, my heart needs rest and reconnection to my own Father. It’s been too easy for me to spend insomnia-filled nights on digital rabbit trails and now, like eating too many cupcakes, I am stuffed with emotions my own insecurities let in and thinking, “Oh, no. That was way too much,” Slightly regretful yet with the knowledge that it’s temporary and I need to put the cupcakes down.

This year, I took a speaking hiatus for most of the time, and now the quiet, small voice has been telling me to leave much of the Internet alone for a bit. I don’t know how long, and we will post when our child enters this glorious world because he or she is a part of your prayers and we are ever-so-thankful that you have walked the roads of loss and celebration with us. Until then, and probably after then, too, I will be off of social media and writing online. Just in case you wonder.


Until next time, much love~
Anne

It’s Never Too Late to Begin!

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids & Sex is Here!

5-things-every-parent-anne-miller

Yesterday was a big day. 5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex is finally here! Yes, talking to your kids about sex and porn and social media can be awkward, but it is SO necessary.

5ThingsMed

While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. With 5 Things, it’s my goal to educate, encourage and equip parents (and youth leaders, friends, family, anyone, really!) to have these meaningful conversations that will forever change the landscape of the messed up messages the media communicates to us.

  • order-nowEquips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents how to keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust their parents with their fears, struggles and questions.

It’s never too late to begin. You can purchase 5 Things today –paperback or eBook–from the following bookstores:

In my online webstore: $11.25*
*Use the code “HELP” when you check out and the book will cost $11.25

Amazon.com: Currently $12.50

Baker Books: Currently $15.99

Books-A-Million: Currently $15.99

Barnes & Noble: Currently 12.37

Family Christian: Currently $15.99

Overstock.com: Currently $12.41

Walmart.com: Currently $12.63

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: Whisper

Anonymous Sharing, Chatting and Location-Based Feeds

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids & Sex Ships Next Week!

Get it in your mailbox (or on your e-reading device) next Tuesday, May 17!

Pre-order my book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex

pre-order-freebie-5-things-every-parent-needs-to-know

Don’t forget to grab your copy before the release date (May 17!), and get some great freebies that will help you talk to your kids about sex.


Today’s App Every Parent Needs to Know About (full series here) is Whisper. It’s made the rounds in media and has received some bad press–maybe rightfully so, as it’s another app that allows users to anonymously post pictures, secrets, confessions, questions, and chat privately with others and share their location or only look at Whispers that are nearby.


parents-apps-whisper

Whisper’s Purpose (according to their app store description):

“Ever wondered what the people around you are really thinking? Whisper is an online community where millions of people around the world share real thoughts, trade advice, and get the inside scoop. See what people are thinking at the places you visit, like your school. Chat directly with other Whisper users – it’s a great way to meet new people. Join the 30 million+ people who use Whisper every month; it will change the way you see the world.”


Terms of Service/App Rating: Whisper is rated 17+ in the app store for:

  • Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes
  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References

In the Terms of Service, Whisper is very clear that the intended audience is 17+. Even still, their messaging is confusing as they say in the fine print, “If you are between 13 and 18 years of age, you may use the services provided with the consent and under the supervision of a parent or guardian, who are obliged to abide by these terms,” and the age you can claim within the app begins at the age of 15.

So, I’m guessing they really don’t care how old you are. Parents, it’s your responsibility to limit which apps your kids download (or have access to download). On that note, Whisper offers parents advice on how to enable restrictions on their kid’s phones and tablets.

They lay out their community guidelines simply:

Do not be Mean, Do not be Gross, and Do Not Use Whisper to Break the Law: Do not defame, impersonate or abuse another person. Do not share personal information of another person, including address or telephone number. Hate speech directed at any group of people will be removed from our services. This includes hate speech on gender, sexuality, race, religion and ethnicity. You can use your own photos on Whisper, but do not allow images that are filthy, violent or pornographic. Do not use Whisper to promote illegal behavior like selling controlled substances or solicitations. If you solicit minors for any reason or post sexually explicit images of minors, we will suspend your account and report it to the National Center for Missing Children. Do not make threats of violence. We may share your IP, location and other information with the police if we think you are a threat to the safety of others. We are required by law to disclose your information if we receive a subpoena, court order or warrant.”


Privacy & Parental Controls: Whisper keeps the standard amount of information that other apps keep: cookies and pixels (that track your use), geolocation (if location services are on) and does provide that information to advertisers and some third parties.

Some notable comments, mostly in regard to Whisper’s location services–as you can see from my screenshots, it tells the user approximately how far another user is away in distance. If kids use the service and reveal any personal information (name, a photo of something outside that’s identifiable), they can be easily found.


whisper-8The Good:

  • Compared to other apps, Whisper had the least amount of sexually explicit content. It’s not void of it completely, but there was a considerable difference.
  • You can turn location services off, but it limits how the app functions.
  • If someone is mature enough and knows how to process the mature topics or photos that do populate feeds, it could be a great place to encourage people who are going through tough times.
  • Reporting posts, users, and blocking chats is quick and easy.
  • Users can enable a NSFW (Not Safe For Work) filter which filters out some mature content.
  • Within the app settings, users can visit “Your Voice” which shares videos from users who struggle with various issues, sorted by issue (mental health, sexuality, suicide, etc.). Users can also share their own stories, which are moderated before being shared.

The Bad: 

  • Content is user-generated, which means even if something is reported, users can view inappropriate content simply by using the app.
  • After you type in your Whisper, based on what words you use, the app suggests “related” photos to accompany it. Some of these photos are hard PG13 or rated R.
  • Location features allow for users to be easily identified if not cautious.whisper-11
  • The “My School” section is has only basic protection: anyone on campus (even across the street) from a school can log in to that school’s feed and communicate with minors.
  • Although the TOS says feeds are actively monitored for suicidal/self-harming/eating disorders/threatening posts, it’s easy to find and suggested images from the app support inappropriate messages.
  • One report I read online said users who post suicidal/self-harming/eating disordered posts are directed to help. I posted about “wishing to be dead” and “starving myself” and was not redirected to help. Instead, I was shown similar confessions from others. (see side photo)
  • Users can also add a personal PIN so that if the app is accessed, the feeds remain but personal chats and Whispers are not shown unless the PIN is entered, which can prevent parents from checking the app.
  • In my experience, as a 15-17 year old female persona in the app, in less than 24 hours, I was by a male adult in my city where I live and what school I go to.


What you need to know: 

One of the most concerning features of Whisper is the location-sharing element, and within that, the ease in which one can sign into a local school’s “private” feed. Unlike After School, where your ID has to be verified through Facebook and/or a state-issued ID, anyone can get on or really close to a school campus and have access to that feed without having to do anything else. 

Like I did in After School, I chose a nearby school. To verify myself, I drove to the parking lot of the school and logged in. I pretended to be a 15-17 year old high school student and easily started chatting with other high school students, both receiving chats and sending them (I sent mine as anonymous encouragements, the ones I received were a mix of positive and sexual).

Because there can be such a high emotional element to sharing secrets or confessions, predators can engage in conversations under the guise of being a peer and in worst-case situations, can schedule a meet up  to “help” their new friend out.


Conversation Starter:

I have to admit: Whisper was not as “bad” as I’ve heard. Maybe people in Iowa don’t post a lot of explicit content (or maybe users of the Whisper app compared to the After School app are toned down.) While it wasn’t completely teen-friendly, more mature teens could use this app with extreme caution and could be a source of encouragement for others.

Chances are, if you have a junior high or high school student, they know about the Whisper app. What are your child’s app settings? Are they restricted from downloading certain content (like 12+ or 17+)?

  • Have you heard of the app Whisper? Tell me about it.
  • Have you ever shared something on Whisper or read someone else’s secret?
  • Has someone you don’t know tried to start a private chat with you? What did/would you do?
  • What would you do if you saw on Whisper that someone wanted to hurt themselves or others?
  • What are some ways you might accidentally share your location? (i.e., geographically identifying pictures, using photos in public places that other can see)

5ThingsMedEducating, Encouraging and Equipping Parents

Nervous about talking to your kids about sex? Anxiety over having “the talk” often means we avoid it as long as we can. While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. In this immensely practical and well-researched book, Anne Marie Miller:

  • Equips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.order-now
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust them with fears, struggles and questions.

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: Instagram

Sharing Photos and Videos (And Just a Few Clicks Away from Porn)

Quick Reminder: Have you pre-ordered my book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex?

pre-order-freebie-5-things-every-parent-needs-to-know

Don’t forget to grab your copy before the release date, and get some great freebies that will help you talk to your kids about sex.


apps-every-parent-needs-to-know-instagramToday’s App Every Parent Needs to Know About (full series here) is one of the most popular social media apps around. More than likely, you have it on your phone. More than likely, your kids might too.

It’s the photo (and video) sharing app: Instagram.

Instagram is one of the classic apps, making its debut in late 2010. They’ve managed to stay relevant and widely-used. Unlike my other social media channels (Twitter, Facebook), I follow a small group of people–mostly friends and family–and a few celebrities or organizations. I engage with the app most days, and use it to keep track of what’s happening in the lives of friends.

Because Instagram’s content is user-generated, I knew there had to be sexual content on it, but it rarely appears to me due to Instagram’s algorithms, which shows you content you’d likely enjoy the most (so in my “What’s Popular” feed, there are lots of pregnancy posts, puppies, and food/drink pictures…which is pretty customized to the things with which I naturally interact).

However, Instagram’s innocence disappears with only a few clicks.

Instagram’s Purpose (according to their app description):

“Instagram is a simple way to capture and share the world’s moments. Transform your everyday photos and videos into works of art and share them with your family and friends.”


Terms of Service/App Rating: Instagram is rated 12+ in the app store for:

  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
  • Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes

In their Terms of Service, Instagram is very clear that the intended audience is 13+ and they also state:

You may not post violent, nude, partially nude, discriminatory, unlawful, infringing, hateful, pornographic or sexually suggestive photos or other content; You must not defame, stalk, bully, abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate people or entities and you must not post private or confidential information via the Service, including, without limitation, your or any other person’s credit card information, social security or alternate national identity numbers, non-public phone numbers or non-public email addresses.”


Privacy: Instagram keeps the standard amount of information that other apps keep: cookies and pixels (that track your use), geolocation (if location services are on) and does provide that information to advertisers and some third parties. As far as parental controls and user privacy, there are only a few options:

  1. Don’t post your location if you don’t want people to know where you are.
  2. Keep your account “private,” which removes any public access.

Instagram says,

“Any information or content that you voluntarily disclose for posting to the Service, such as User Content, becomes available to the public, as controlled by any applicable privacy settings that you set. To change your privacy settings on the Service, please change your profile setting. Once you have shared User Content or made it public, that User Content may be re-shared by others.”


instagram-5

Reporting is Easy

The Good:

  • If a user doesn’t wander outside his or her feed or click any hashtags, the probability of viewing something unwanted or inappropriate is relatively low (unless someone a user follows directly posts something inappropriate or is hacked).
  • Users can keep their accounts private, which blocks any public searches and sharing of information.
  • Instagram automatically blocks obvious inappropriate hashtags–for example, if you searched for #sex, nothing will show up.
  • Instagram makes reporting and blocking posts or accounts that violate their Terms of Service really easy, just by clicking “Report” and choosing the reason.

The Bad: Anything outside of a user’s feed is only a few clicks away from trouble.

  • Accounts who post inappropriate material often use common, innocent hashtags to have their posts show up to larger audiences, i.e, you can click on the hashtag #dogsofinstagram because you want to see more pictures of dogs, but an explicit photo or video will find its way into that feed because the user tagged it #dogsofinstagram.
  • Curious users who want to find inappropriate material don’t have to try very hard. Whereas #sex may not have any results, simply turn the word into #sexy and you have millions of posts, most which violate Instagram’s terms, right at your fingertips.
  • It’s also super popular to follow celebrities on Instagram. I don’t want to pick on Kim Kardashian, but she’s always made infamous headlines for posting some mostly-nude photos (which, based on Instagram’s TOS, I do not understand why they are still up–see example below).
  • Celebrities can post explicit material, and project what someone is “supposed” to look like (skinny, sexy, wearing certain items, not wearing certain items; essentially they can be negative role models for body image and online behaviors).
  • Users can tag their location and publicize where they live, go to school, work, etc.

What you need to know: 

Although Instagram has a straight forward TOS and privacy settings, beyond that, there are no parental controls available. It would be awesome if they could implement a rating system for users and, at the very least, try to have more control over who sees what. Public users are also allowed to send private messages to other public users, unless they are blocked. And even if a user is set as “private,” someone can always take a screen shot of his or her post and repost it publicly. You wouldn’t believe the number of phone numbers I see on junior high and high school students’ private posts that have been shared. Also, Instagram allows a user to clear searches, so hiding the history is easy to do.


Conversation Starter:

It’s likely you and members of your family use Instagram. I realize that by sharing some of these “shortcuts,” it may open pandora’s box, so to speak. Maybe your kids would never think about searching for #sexy on Instagram. Then again, maybe they already have, or have clicked an innocent hashtag, or have been followed by an explicit account.

The real question here is do you know?

Instead of sheltering, open up to your kids and let them know you’re sharing this because you care about what they see online. You don’t have to give them an instruction book for how to find content they shouldn’t see, but by asking them questions, you can move forward in this conversation in a productive and appropriate way.

  • Do you use Instagram? What do you like about it? What don’t you like?
  • Is your account set to private? Who follows you? Who do you follow? Why?
  • What are some funny things you’ve seen on Instagram? Have you ever seen anything inappropriate? (Note: if they answer yes, don’t freak out. Engage them!)
  • Do you know how to report things that shouldn’t be on Instagram?
  • Tell me what you know about hashtags…how do people use them?

Educating, Encouraging and Equipping Parents

5ThingsMedNervous about talking to your kids about sex? Anxiety over having “the talk” often means we avoid it as long as we can. While we’re waiting, our kids are getting their questions answered and their perceptions of sex and sexuality formed elsewhere–through online searches and a daily diet of mainstream and social media that may shock you. In this immensely practical and well-researched book, Anne Marie Miller:

  • order-nowEquips parents to take control of the narrative their children are receiving about sex.
  • Shows how to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.
  • Helps parents how to keep the lines of communication open so kids will trust their parents with their fears, struggles and questions.

 

Tons of Freebies!

Have you pre-ordered Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex yet? Have you been thinking about it? 

Oh, happy day! It’s time to get rewarded for your eagerness!

pre-order-freebie-5-things-every-parent-needs-to-know

The book ships on May 17–just a couple weeks from now. And to thank you for pre-ordering the book, I made up a nice little package of freebies for you. Now, I wish I could throw in some cookies or a new puppy, but unfortunately, neither of those ship really well. Instead, if you pre-order Five Things by May 17, email me a copy of your receipt or order confirmation and I’ll send you:

  • A 35 minute audio file of a Q&A my husband Tim and I did with parents that covers their questions on sex, porn and social media.
  • A 30 page eBook containing everything from my series on Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About so you can easily reference information and share it with your friends. You’ll also get an updated file every time we add a new app!
  • A free trial of the Internet accountability and filtering software, Covenant Eyes. Sign up using the code I’ll give you and you’ll get to try this amazing software (which Tim and I use on all our devices) for free!

How do you get all this? It’s super easy!

  1. Pre-order the book (you can find all the retailers at 5ThingsBook.com – Bonus: You can get the first 30 pages of the book there for free)
  2. Send me the copy of your receipt or confirmation number to freebies@annemariemiller.com
  3. I’ll send you a link to download all these wonderful freebies to help your family begin redeeming the conversation about sex!

Now, I can’t make any promises, but it’s been the norm in my experience that people who pre-order books actually receive them before their official ship date. I have no control over this, but you may even get the book a bit earlier than if you waited until it officially released.

Questions? Comments? Just shoot me an email and let me know!

Lots of love,

Anne Marie

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: After School

Week 5: After School - A Truly "Students Only" Anonymous Posting App with a Bad Rap

apps-parents-review-after-school

Update: May 4, 2016 – A special welcome to parents who saw the “After School” story on CBS 2 or Fox 28 news. Since I’m a Corridor gal, if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know! We’re in this together as a community! You can contact me here.

Preface:

This was one of the hardest posts on apps I’ve ever written. How bad could an app be if it’s totally meant for teens? Where do I draw the line in what I share and what I don’t? How can I share the shocking truth without being gratuitous? 

Here’s the deal: on this post, I’m not sharing everything I could. And I’m doing my best to tone down what I am showing you, but the reality is hard: our teenagers, as young as 13 (and maybe younger), are being exposed to this. I’m sorry if you find the content offensive, but please know my intent is to be educational. It may be offensive to some, but we should be more offended that this is passing in front of our kids’ eyes on an increasing basis. 

About a year and a half ago, I heard of the app After School, and by the time I went to download it, it was removed from app stores because of threats of violence and the app developers’ inability to monitor/delete inappropriate content. Recently, a mother and educator told me about the problems her school’s been having with the app. I realized it was back, and it wasn’t better than ever.

Here’s the fifth installment of the series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About, talking (as much as we can, anyway) about the very private app After School.

(To read earlier reviews in this series, click here).


TODAY’S APP: After School

You guys.

I spend about a day or so researching the apps I write about. There are always other stories, other reports, and other reviews out there, but I want to give you my personal experience using the app. The screenshots are from my time spent in the app–it’s my first hand experience.

In order to even get access to log in to After School, I had to…pretend…to be a local high school student via my Facebook page. I needed to change my age (I chose 17) and my grade (a junior) at a local Cedar Rapids area high school (which I will not name as to protect the privacy of any students). Changing your birthday on Facebook is a hassle, but it can be done. So while After School may not be the easiest app for predators to creep on, it’s still possible.

If you go to the After School website, you’ll be greeted by a collage of normal-looking, happy high schoolers, some with videos sharing why the love the After School app. At a first glance, it’s totally harmless (save the few mentions of the word “anonymous”). There’s no apparent nudity or sexual material. Even the app’s page in the Apple App Store is mostly innocent.

Where’s the harm? Keep reading.

After School’s Purpose (according to their app description)

“Your high school experience will never be the same. After School makes every day a little bit more interesting ;).  After School is a private space for you and your school where you can find fun stuff about your friends, embarrassing stories, uplifting notes of encouragement, who is into whom and more! Then take some weight off your mind and post your confessions or hilarious observations either anonymously or with your name — it’s your choice and your network.”


Terms of Service/App Rating: After School is rated 17+ in the app store for:

  • Infrequent/Mild Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity
  • Infrequent/Mild Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
  • Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes

However, when you go to their TOS page on their website, it says, “Don’t create an account or post any content if you are not over 13 years of age;” and says nothing about needing to be over 17 years old.

Once you’ve downloaded the app and met their burden of proof (verified account via Facebook that you are of high school age and attend a local high school based on your phone’s GPS location), the clear audience is intended for high school students since it asks what grade you’re in (9th-12th).

So, how can kids under 17 download the app? If their parents don’t have restrictions set up on their phones, they can download away, ignoring Apple’s rating and crossing into After School’s ethos:

“It’s okay with us if you’re 13 or older. We won’t tell the app store that there’s a conflict between the age you’re giving us and the age you need to be to download our app.”

After School is like your older friend who buys booze for you when you’re under the age of 21.


Privacy: After School keeps most personal information for an undisclosed amount of time, including location, cookies and pixels on both a user’s mobile device and computer. They make it tough for law enforcement, parents and educators to work with them should an issue arise. From their site (emphasis mine):

While we make it difficult to do so, it is still technically possible for us to connect your Posts with your email address, phone number, or other personal data you have provided to us. This means that if a court asks us to disclose your identity, we may be compelled to do so…You may be able to fight the subpoena on the basis that it violates your First Amendment right to speak anonymously.*

*My Note: For what it’s worth, in the US, students in public schools are not protected by the First Amendment if their actions disrupt or cause harm to the student body.


The Good: After School does provide a place to report inappropriate content, users, and has both contact info for teens who may self-harm and a generic parents’ guide on their website about social media (which isn’t that helpful).

The Bad: Everything else.


What you need to know: 

After browsing what most parents would look at (the website, the app store), it appears that After School is not a big threat. You download the app and instantly the demeanor changes from innocent to sexy and private.

Here are some screen grabs from the couple of days I was in the app. I’ve censored them to take them from an R or hard PG13 rating to a soft PG13 rating. I think you’ll be able to get the gist and I’ll let the pics speak for themselves. (Remember, in order to get this far, I had to pretend to be a verified high school student at a local school, otherwise, I wouldn’t have even gotten past the first “bouncer.” (There’s another bouncer later on in the app I was unable to pass by for more explicit material. More on that in a moment.)

“But my kid would NEVER use this.”

Look at the third picture there. It shows how many students are using the app and are online at the time I took the screenshot which was 10:17 AM on Monday, April 18 – a school day) at various high schools near me in Cedar Rapids.

  • 931/2025 at Linn-Mar – 46% of the students
  • 46/250 at Cedar Valley Christian School (the 250 students is an estimate of ALL students K-12, not only high school. If each grade has 21 students, that would be 84 students in high school)54% of HS students
  • 463/1378 at George Washington High – 34% of HS students
  • 697/1730 at JFK High – 40% of HS students
  • 397/705 at Xavier High – 56% of HS students
  • 589/1495 at Thomas Jefferson – 39% of HS students

My math? 44% of students of the six closest Cedar Rapids high schools to my location are using After School.


There is a filter in the app which “protects” younger students from more explicit material. It’s automatically set until you can prove with a State Issued ID or Drivers License that you are who you are, and that you’re over the age of 17. The name and age on the ID must match the name and age on your account. Since I am not really a 17 year old junior, when I tried verifying it using my Drivers License, it rejected me (even though I am 19 years older than their required age).

I kept trying, contacting the support at the app, asking if my “mom” could give me permission (AKA-just me, real me) using her ID and I got so far as my “real” self was vouching for my “17-year old daughter” and I still could NOT get into this part of the app.

So that’s where my investigation ends. I’m totally stumped, and I wasn’t about to ask an actual teen to subject their phone or eyes to what lies beyond in the explicit section of After School.


Conversation Starter:

I’ve said before that the basic premise of all these posts is to not write off every app or social media as inherently evil or terrible or useless. BUT IT’S REALLY REALLY HARD FOR ME TO FIND ANY REDEMPTIVE VALUE WITH THIS APP.

Still, use this opportunity to talk to your kids about tough apps like After School. Ask some questions.

  • Have you heard about After School? Have you ever used it? If you have, what have you seen?
  • Do you know anyone who uses After School?
  • What are the benefits of using After School?
  • What are the risks?


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