Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: After School

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

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!

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?


Miller_5ThingsEveryParent_3DSign up to get the Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About post in your inbox every week.

But it’s not just about apps!

Get the first 30 pages of the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex FREE here and learn more about the book.

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

order-now

  • Equips 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.

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: kik

Week 4: kik - A Messaging App

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About Kik

Random bit of news: If you’re reading this from anywhere but my website, my website got a much-needed facelift which you can see here. Yay! It’s been difficult to narrow down what I want my focus to be as I continue writing, and I suppose I’ve landed on three things:

  • Faith,
  • Sex, and
  • Mental Health.

Hopefully the site will be easier to navigate and provide resources for those who are looking for information on these three topics.

Anyway, we’re in our fourth week of the series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About and this week, we’ll cover a popular app – kik (To read previous weeks, click here).

Today’s app: kik

kik-ratingkik, like our previous reviews, is rated 12+ for the same reasons as the others (noticing a theme here?) for a variety of “Infrequent/Mild,” sex and suggestive themes.

kik’s Purpose (according to their website)

kik is a messaging app that “lets you connect with friends, groups and the world around you through chat. And now, you can chat with bots too.”

Terms of Service: kik has some rules, regulations and tips (even a section for parents, law enforcement and educators), but you’ll have to go on their website and hunt for it. The TOS says one must be 13 to use it, but it’s rated for ages 12+ in various app stores (it used to be rated ages 9+ until recently).

kik-rating-2

Privacy: General privacy settings apply here–you can block and report others and the app doesn’t share any personal information (date of birth) publicly.

kik is unique in the sense that in order to find and add a user, the other person has to know the user’s specific moniker. For instance, if you wanted to find me on kik, you can’t just search for “Anne Marie Miller” – you’d have to know my specific username.

While that’s a plus for privacy, kik recently released a “new chats” feature that is only a few clicks away, and this is where the crazy starts to happen.

Caution: New Chats

According to kik’s website, under the parental guide, it says about these “new chats”

The ‘New Chats’ feature on iOS and Android devices puts messages from people your teen hasn’t talked to before in a separate section, and turns off notifications for those messages. If your teen doesn’t want to see inbound messages from people they don’t know, they don’t have to. In one-on-one chats from new people, the profile pictures are blurred, and so are pictures or content messages they may have sent. Your teen can block and report someone new right from the messages that have been sent to them. You may want to review messages from new people with your teen, so you can decide together which new users they want to talk with.

So, while your kid is initially protected from random people starting chats with them, it doesn’t take more than a few clicks to start engaging with strangers. And while the photos are blurred until a user accepts a new chat, the first several lines of text are displayed.

Here’s my real life example: I registered as a new user under my real name, age, and sex (Anne Miller, 36, female). I put a photo of Tim and me up for my profile picture. But when I entered into the “new chat” section, it asked me again for my name, age, gender and picture. I played along to see how easy it was to not be me and converted to a 14 year old girl named Taylor and used a random picture of a high school girl I found on Google Images by searching for “high school senior picture.” I didn’t choose anything provocative.

I said I was “looking for new friends” and within less than three minutes of entering a new chat, I had NINETEEN messages (that I didn’t get as a 36 year old female, for what it’s worth).

kik-message-1

Yes, all the photos are blurred, but I could see the content of the message. And, because I was curious (I mean researching), I opened the top chat to see what happened. For what it’s worth, I didn’t open any other chats.

kik-message-2

I censored this message with a red box (he asked to see my breasts, not my toes…)

I didn’t respond, and I was blown away. I showed Tim what happened, deleted the app, deactivated my account.

kik-parents-delete-app


The Good: kik is an alternative to messaging where you don’t have to share your phone number (or even have one) to chat with people. I can see this being useful for traveling overseas when there’s a wifi connection and you don’t want to make your phone go international (then again, there are many other apps that accomplish this, including iOS’s built in iMessage, which is what I use and can text any phone that receives SMS over wifi). I also like that a person has to have a user’s unique user name to add them specifically (and that user has to accept the add).

The Bad: kik does not have a special corner on alternative messaging apps. There’s nothing unique about it, and far too much junk that is only a few clicks away from any user. Simply scrolling through some public profiles and messages in chat rooms, you can see what I mean: sexual poses, people who clearly aren’t teens pretending to be teens, if they are actually using their real photos (which remember, even I didn’t do when I pretended to be a 14 year old girl). In my few minutes using the app, not only did we find highly sexualized content, but extreme bullying (telling someone they need to kill themselves).

kik-message-3


What you need to know: 

We’ve talked about how most parents restrict app download for teens to the 12+ and under rating. This gives us a false sense of security thinking the apps we allow our kids to download are actually suitable for their age group. kik is just another example of how wrong this thinking is.

Last week, a woman who is a Director of Digital Learning at a private school emailed me about kik, which was the impetus behind me choosing it for this week’s app.

“…I had a girl walk in my office crying telling me that one of our male students was sexually harassing her using the third-party texting app KiK.  At the time, I wasn’t very familiar with KIK.  Long story short, we contacted the company that developed KIK and asked for them to give us the email address that was associated with this account.  They refused.  Our local police department requested the same information from the company, and they still refused.

About the same time I was dealing with the KIK app at school, my husband was driving our daughter who was 12 at the time, and a couple of her friends to a party.  As he was driving, he heard one of the girls say that she was using the KIK app and on KIK she was pretending to be 16.  My husband was horrified.

My husband emailed the dads of all the girls and told them what he had overheard, and explained to them the challenges I was having at school with KIK.  The next day, all the mothers involved called me to get more information.  At the end of each conversation, each mom made the same comment.  They said, ‘This is overwhelming.  I don’t even know where to start getting control over all of this social media stuff.'”


Conversation Starter:

The basic premise of all these posts is to not write off every app or social media as inherently evil or terrible or useless. As I’ve always said, maybe it’s okay for your kids to have some of these apps and that’s up to you and your kids to decide.

Instead of locking their phones away or deleting every app but the calculator, use this opportunity to talk to your kids about how they engage with kik. Ask some questions.

  • Have you heard about kik? Have you ever used it? If you have, what have you seen?
  • Are there any kids in your school who you know have lied about their age or who they talk to on kik?
  • What would you do if someone you thought was interesting (but didn’t know) sent you a message?
  • What are the benefits of using kik? What are the risks?


Miller_5ThingsEveryParent_3DSign up to get the Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About post in your inbox every week.

But it’s not just about apps! Get the first 28 pages of the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex FREE here and learn more about the book.

In Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About their Kids and Sex, readers will discover:

•  An easy-to-understand introduction to what the Bible says about the purpose of sex (hint: it’s awesome)

•  Anne Marie’s personal story of being a victim of sexual abuse in her teens, her compulsive pornography use, and how she found freedom from her shame and pain through her faith and her community.

•  What, when, and how to talk to kids at any age about sexuality, researched and reviewed by professionals in medicine, child development and psychology.

•  How the media plays a role in how we develop our sexual worldview (and how to talk about it).

•  That pornography is being accessed and shared by children in elementary schools, how it affects our brains, and viewing pornography creates a need in the supply-and-demand chain linked to sex trafficking.

•  How to watch for symptoms that your child may be sexually abused and how to discuss this tender topic with children of all ages.

•  There is hope! For adults, for children, and for generations to come. It’s time to redeem the conversation!

How Much, How Soon? When To Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Today, over on BeliefNet, I’m sharing an abbreviated excerpt from 5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex, specifically on the topic of “how much, how soon?”

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and SexThis is probably one of the most common questions I get. In the full chapter, we go a lot deeper into the WHY and the HOW of each age group, starting at birth and going all the way up through adulthood, but here’s just a little bit on each age group for you!

If you haven’t already, you can download the first 28 pages of the book for free here.

Below, there’s another good chunk of 5 Things for you, for free! Enjoy!

Lots of love~

Anne

(PS – if you click over to the full article, the stock photo they use for the piece is hilariously awkward! I love it!)


When it comes to parents talking to their kids about sex, the most common question I hear again and again is when parents should start the discussion.

When’s the right time? When’s too early? Is it too late? How much do I share? When do I share? Talking to your kids about sex is not a onetime event. It is an ongoing conversation.

You’ll talk to your kids about various aspects of sexuality from the time they’re in diapers, through their elementary school and teenage years and, yes, even into adulthood.

CONTINUE READING…

Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex

Real help for the Toughest Talks

five things parents need to know about kids and sex

Most parents dread talking about sex with their children. Anne Marie Miller loves giving “the talk.” As she has shared her personal story and talked about God’s gift of sex with almost half a million young people, she’s noticed some disturbing patterns:

  • Google is how kids learn about sex
  • Kids are learning about sex and viewing pornography earlier than parents think
  • The sexually abused often don’t tell anyone for fear of getting in trouble
  • Sexual messages are being consumed daily through mainstream and social media
  • Most parents think their child is the exception

In this immensely practical and well-researched book, Anne:

  • Equips parents to have meaningful and age-appropriate conversations with their children about sex, pornography, and sexual abuse.

  • Advises parents on how to keep the lines of communication open so that their children know they can trust them with their fears, struggles, and mistakes.

  • Offers hope to worried parents that their children can grow up with a healthy biblical view of sex as a gift from God.

Instead of sweeping this topic under the rug, Miller wants to change the narrative by…

Educating, Encouraging and Equipping Parents

In Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About their Kids and Sex, readers will discover

  • An easy-to-understand introduction to what the Bible says about the purpose of sex (hint: it’s awesome)
  • Anne Marie’s personal story of being a victim of sexual abuse in her teens, her compulsive pornography use, and how she found freedom from her shame and pain through her faith and her community.
  • What, when, and how to talk to kids at any age about sexuality, researched and reviewed by professionals in medicine, child development and psychology.
  • How the media plays a role in how we develop our sexual worldview (and how to talk about it).
  • That pornography is being accessed and shared by children in elementary schools, how it affects our brains, and viewing pornography creates a need in the supply-and-demand chain linked to sex trafficking.
  • How to watch for symptoms that your child may be sexually abused and how to discuss this tender topic with children of all ages.

There is hope! For adults, for children, and for generations to come. It’s time to redeem the conversation!

preorderbanner

Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About: Snapchat

Week 3: Snapchat

We’re in our third week of the series Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About and this week, we’ll cover a familiar app – Snapchat. (To read previous weeks, click here.)

Today’s app: Snapchat

Snapchat, like our previous reviews, is rated 12+ for the same reasons as the others (noticing a theme here?) for a variety of “Infrequent/Mild,” (emphasis mine) sex and suggestive themes.

IMG_2207

Snapchat’s Purpose (according to their Community Guidelines – emphasis theirs)

Snapchat is about sharing moments and having fun. Our goal in creating these rules is to accommodate the broadest range of self expression while balancing the need for Snapchatters to be able to use our service safely and enjoyably.

And Snapchat lays out the basic rules:

Don’t send people Snaps they don’t want to receive—especially if the Snap is mean.

Be thoughtful about what you Snap and whom you send it to. It’s okay with us if someone takes a screenshot, but we can’t speak for you or your friends. Snapchat attempts to detect screenshots and notify the sender, but it doesn’t always work perfectly – and your friend can always capture the image with a camera.

Keep it legal. 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!

What not to Snap:

  • Pornography

  • Nudity or sexually suggestive content involving minors (people under the age of 18)

  • Minors engaged in activities that are physically dangerous and harmful

  • Invasions of privacy

  • Threats

  • Harassment or bullying

  • Impersonation

  • Self-harm

Privacy: Snapchat’s user interface allows you to set privacy preferences as far as who sees your snaps (a picture or video that is sent privately or posted to someone’s “Story,” which is similar to a Facebook feed), whose snaps you see, and allows you to block users. There are ads (and sometimes, they aren’t meant for a 12-year old audience…more on that later) and also note that there are options to clear chats and browser data–a place someone can erase their history from being seen.

IMG_2205

The Good: Like most social media, teens and younger adults first started using the app long before their parents. Eventually, either through curiosity or desire, more and more parents and older adults are signing up for accounts. I won’t lie–I first signed up as an alternative way of communicating with and keeping tabs on some of the teens in our youth group, but now that friends my age are on it, I’m enjoying watching snaps of new babies, mothers at hockey games, and adults trying to be funny (myself included). We’ve used it in our youth group as a way of telling students about upcoming events or information (and we can see when/if they watch it). So, Snapchat can be a great alternative to texting.

The Bad: The misnomer about Snapchat is that once a snap is gone, it’s gone for good. However, Snapchat makes clear in their Terms of Service that at any time, they can store or use any picture or video. In addition to that, the receiver of a snap can also save a copy of the picture or a screen grab of the video and shows you (most of the time–they admit they’re not flawless) when someone has taken a screen shot of something you posted. And sometimes, kids post dumb stuff…like their phone numbers, or videos of their friends snorting sugar but it looks like cocaine if you didn’t know, or just…dumb stuff..Publicly (these are all screen grabs I took a few weeks ago while planning this series and only included students in different youth groups I know, and nobody seems to mind…)

snapchats

A simple web search will show you plenty of horror stories of kids (and parents) that have been bullied, hurt themselves, hurt others, or committed suicide after misusing Snapchat.

Advertising that is NOT Kid-Friendly: As mentioned earlier, there are ads for various events and websites. Some ads are hidden in live events (the Iowa Caucus was a good example–lots of live scenes of people showing up to vote intermingled with candidate ads) where as some advertising comes in the form of “Channels” and are updated daily by media brands we’re used to seeing (magazines, cable channels, and the like–see below. These are a few I just captured today). Remember, no matter what privacy settings you have enabled or what age you select, these ads are shown to everyone.

snapchats2

 


What you need to know: 

We’ve talked about how most parents restrict app download for teens to the 12+ and under rating. This gives us a false sense of security.

Last week, a woman named Alyssa commented on the Apps article on Musical.ly:

I feel like I’m pretty careful with my kids and their devices, but a few days ago, I let my ten-year-old daughter convince me to let her download Musical.ly on our iPad because several of her friends (who are also good kids with strict-ish parents) have it. She spent a little time on it and found her friends to follow, but hadn’t posted anything, and then didn’t look at it again all weekend.

This morning I read your email/blog and couldn’t believe the timing. My first instinct was to go delete the app before she woke up, but your sentence about not stealing their phones and deleting apps and having a conversation instead really stood out. So while she was eating breakfast, I mentioned the app and how I read that it’s really not for kids and you’re supposed to be at least 12 (which I am kicking myself for not even noticing that part, let alone the 18+), and right away she said, “Yeah, let’s delete it. I think there’s some stuff on there I shouldn’t see anyway.”

I think she must have already had some guilt about it and we had a good little chat about apps and life. Later, I went into the settings before deleting, and she did have it set as public! Ah!

So anyway, instead of beating myself up about this total mommy fail, I wanted to take the time to say THANK YOU for this wake up call and reminder to not get lax about all this stuff. You probably saved my daughter from some things she didn’t need to see and/or hear, and helped me remember to be more in tune with what’s happening on those screens.

Snapchat is not evil. And maybe it’s okay for your kids to have it–that’s up to you and your kids to decide. So instead of locking their phones away, deleting every app, use this opportunity to talk to your kids about how they engage with Snapchat. Ask some questions.

  • Have you heard about Snapchat? Have you ever used it? If you have, what have you seen?
  • Are there any kids in your school who have had rumors spread about them because of something that was shared because of Snapchat or social media?
  • Do you think Snaps ever totally disappear?
  • What are the benefits of using Snapchat? What are the risks?

Sign up here to get the Apps Every Parent Needs to Know About post in your inbox every Monday.

Learn more about the book Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex.

5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Their Kids and Sex