Yik Yak – What Parents Need to Know

XP1PspM3There is an app that is has been growing in popularity among teens that parents need to be aware of called Yik Yak. In this post I want to share a few things parents need to know about this app.

How Does this App Work
Yik Yak is very much like Twitter but with some unique differences. On Yik Yak everything is anonymous. That is the big catch with this app. Users post what is called a “Yak.” A “Yak” must be 200 characters or shorter. Once a user post a “Yak” it is posted on a live stream. The other big catch with this app is that is location based. So the live stream of “Yaks” is made up of only users within a 10 miles radius of where you are. Users have the ability to reply to “Yaks” as well as “upvote” (like) or “downvote” (dislike) them. The two big things to remember about this app is that everything is anonymous and is location based.

Some Negative Things to Be Aware Of
There are a few negative things about this app parents need to be aware of. First, sexually explicit content is common on this app. For an example, when I downloaded this app and opened it up, three out of the first six “Yaks” on my feed were sexually explicit statements. I know some people will argue that sexually explicit content can be found on any form of social media but apps like this (and others like Snapchat and Whisper) make it easier for teenagers to view and share this type of content. A second thing parents need to be aware of is the cyberbullying risk that comes with this app. Like Ask.fm, since users can post anything as an anonymous user there is a huge opportunity for users to cyberbully other users. This will often happen through users replying to other users “Yaks.” Because of this, many schools, both high school and college, have banned this app. Yik Yak developers do use a technology called geofencing, which allows certain areas like schools to be “fenced” off to avoid cyberbullying. However, this doesn’t always work and is not always used which leads to continued cyberbulling on this app. The last thing I want to make sure parents are aware of with this app is the illusion of location privacy. Even though this app, and many others like it, ensure location privacy there are always ways for people to find out where other users are. This may not be easy to do and the average user will not be able to do it but it can be done. For an example, two teenage girls where arrested when they made threats about a campus shooting on this app. The two girls were tracked down by police and arrested. One article reminds us that “every digital device has an IP address that allows for it to be tracked.”

What Parents Should Do
Once parents are informed about this app and are aware of how it works as well as some of the negatives things that come with it, what should they do next? First and foremost parents must not be afraid to have an open conversation with their teenager about this app. Explain to them how it works if their teenager doesn’t know already (impressive them if they don’t) and talk to them about some of the negative things that come with using this app. Once parents have done this they will need to decide if this is an app they are ok with their teenager using or not. My suggestion for parents is to not let their teenager use this app. There isn’t really any point to it and there is no good way for parents to track what their teenager may be viewing or doing on this app. However, a parent could see what their teenager has posted as a “Yak” or their replies to other “Yaks.”

I’d encourage parents to also check out iparent.tv’s post on this app. They share some good insight on this app that would be worth checking out.

Sobrr – What Parents Need to Know

Sobrr-Life-in-the-moment-598x326Parents need to know what apps their teens are using on their smartphones. One of the apps that I have been telling parents about is Snapchat. Snapchat is one of the most popular apps out there right now for teens and parents need to know how it works and what some of the dangers are with it (click here to read about Snapchat). By the way, the whole idea behind Snapchat is not good. If you don’t believe me, click here and read this helpful article.

But that’s enough about Snapchat. There is a new app that just came out called Sobrr, which may gain popularity with teens shortly. It’s an interesting app that to teenagers will sound fun and exciting, but in the long run is not very healthy.

Sobrr is an app that is built on the whole idea of “living in the moment.” Sobrr basically does three major things. First, Sobrr users “vibe in the moment.” Vibes are basically things you and others post (what they call “moments”). Then you scroll through the current vibes to see what others are posting and can either “cheer” (same idea as a “like” on Facebook) or “pass.” The catch though is everything expires in 24 hours. So what you post and what others are posting will be gone in 24 hours. Completely gone. Second, Sobrr users can have “24 hour friendships.” Yep, you read it right, temporary friendships that last for 24 hours. However, if both people enjoyed their “24 hour friendship” they can choose to stay friends, but only if they both choose to do so. Third, Sobrr users can have “ephermal conversations.” Sobrr chatting is a one-time chat experience. You must read it before it expires. What’s the point of this? Sobrr says it “keeps the conversations free and in the moment.” You can click here to check out the Sobrr website and read more about it as well as watch a short video about it.

Why do parents need to be aware of Sobrr? It seems fun and not harmful. However, when you really step back and think about what this app is all about it’s not really that healthy for teenagers. A few things stand out to me about this app parents need to think about. First, Sobrr (much like Snaptchat) opens the door for teens to get involved in sexting. Sexting has gained a lot of popularity among teens because of apps like Snapchat (and of course because of texting) and Sobrr will do the same thing in making sexting easier and more accessible for teens. Because of the one-time chat feature and the fact things you say will expire, teens will be more likely to say things they wouldn’t in person or even in a normal online chatting session. Second, Sobrr cheapens real community. We are designed to be in relationships with other people. Community is necessary for us in how we have been designed. Sobrr redefines what friendships look like by making them just a 24 hour experience. Third, Sobrr will give teens a false sense of no accountability. In their minds, things they say and do on Sobrr will disappear in 24 hours so why would they think about using discernment or even hold back in what they do. However, parents, especially Christian parents, should realize this is not true. Even though what they do may disappear in 24 hours they will still give an account for it before God one day. In Romans 14:12, Paul reminds us, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (ESV).

Parents, check out Sobrr. Don’t just take my word for it. Research the app yourself and talk to your teen about it if it comes up. Don’t just let your teen use apps like Sobrr without knowing about it first or having a conversation with them. You may even decide to not let them use this app at all.

What “Hot or Not” is Teaching Teens

Hot-or-Not-575x340One of the most popular trending apps right now is an app called “Hot or Not.” Even though this app attracts many young adults, teenagers are very much into it as well and are using it. Basically, it’s an app where you browse pictures other users have posted and you rate them as “hot” or “not.” The rating scale is 1-10 with low rating obviously meaning your “not” and high ratings meaning your “hot.” The photos can range from appropriate to sexual explicit. If you rate someone as “hot” and they rate you as “hot” as well, then you become connections and can chat (which is where this app opens up a huge window for sexting). That’s basically all the app is. So it seems harmless right? Seems like it’s a fun app teenagers can use to find people they think are attractive and maybe chat with them. Parents, click here to read a really good parent review of this app.

I’d like to suggest that this app is teaching teenagers, especially teen girls, that their value is found in their outward appearance and the approval for others. If you have a teenager, again especially a girl, or work with teenagers, you know how much of a struggle this is. Even though this is a tough issue for girls, the guys are not excluded from this as well. Teenagers want to be liked by their peers. Teenagers, in many different ways, are crying out for the approval of others. So many teenagers will run to this app, find the best pictures of themselves, post them, and wait in hopes that someone will make them feel valuable by rating them as “hot.” However, this comes at a cost and a risk. The risk is not everyone will think they are “hot” and that approval they long for may instead by shouts of disproval by people rating them as “not.” And maybe if they wear less clothes and show more skin they can get their ratings up? Do you see how this app can be devastating to teenagers?

It’s most devastating because it goes right against the Gospel. While teenagers are fighting for acceptance, approval, and value their Creator is shouting to them that He has the eternal acceptance and value they are looking for! He sent Jesus to die on a cross, to pay for their sins, so they can find eternal value and acceptance in a relationship with Him. They don’t need to look for approval and value in their outwards looks, even though there is nothing sinful with outward beauty, and the approval of others. The Gospel is what they need and when they take that step of believing in that Gospel and entering into a personal relationship with their Creator they can find all the acceptance, approval, and value they need in Him!

I think it’s important for parents of teens and those who work with teens to understand the devastating message this app could be sending. As parents, you may want to discourage your teens from even using this app or at least having honest conversations with them about the message it may be sending them. It may be that this could be a great platform to explain and teach the Gospel to your teenager.

The bottom line is that what teenagers want, what all of us want, is found in the Gospel. The Gospel is the answer and our only hope.

3 Resources Get Students Interacting at Small Group

Two-people-talking-with-BubblesOne of the hardest things about leading student small groups is starting off on the right foot. Usually you have one or two students who are the life of the party. They feel comfortable talking and being the center of conversation. But then you have a few students that are shy or maybe they don’t feel comfortable enough with the group to join in the conversation. So how do you start your student small group off on the right foot in a way that makes all the students comfortable. Also, how do you get them interacting and listening to each other. A great way to do this is ask icebreaker questions. Questions that pull students out of their comfort zones and answering funny (or sometime serious) questions that usually helps the group laugh or interact with each other. I want to share with you three great resources that I have used to get my students interacting, laughing, and listening to each other during small groups.

Icebreaker Questions iPhone App. I ran across this app on the More Than Dodgeball blog. It’s a handy iPhone app that has tons of icebreaker questions for your students. It even has questions to use with kid and adult small groups. All you do is open the app, pick am age group (kids, students, or adults), and start asking the questions. The app cost $0.99 in the app store, but is worth it.

The Complete Book of Questions: 1001 Conversation Starts for Any Occasion. My campus pastor pulled this book out a few months ago before a staff meeting and since then I have used it with my middle school guys small group. This helpful book is packed with tons of questions that help start funny and serious conversations with your students. What I like about this book is it’s split up between starter, funny, serious, and spiritual questions. Out of the three resources in this blog this is the one I would recommend most. It’s a great book to have handy when you want to break the ice with your students at small group.

Throw and Tell Balls from Group. I purchased one of these balls a few years ago at SYMC and didn’t realize how much my students would enjoy it. Basically it’s a blow up, beach ball sized ball that has a ton of questions on it. You throw the ball around the group and make the students answer which ever question one of their fingers lands on (I usually say right pointer finger, but you can do whatever you want). Group has made two versions of this ball: icebreaker and storytellers. The icebreaker ball is covered with simple icebreaker questions and the storytellers ball is covered with questions that make the student answer in story mode.

I hope you find a few of these resources helpful when it comes to leading student small groups. If you have another resource that you find helpful please share it below in the comment section.

Bang With Friends – What Parents Need to Know

Bang-With-Friends-300x250Recently I wrote about an app called Snapchat that I wanted parents to be informed and aware of. It’s an app that can be found on most teenagers smart phones and allows them to send pictures back and forth. Snapchat makes it easy for teens to be involved in sexting and sending sexual images to each other. If that isn’t enough, there is another app parents need to know about called Bang With Friends. The name says it all.

Bang With Friends is an app that works through Facebook that lets you identify which of yours friends from the opposite sex you would “bang” (for parents that have no clue what that means, it means have sex with them). It’s completely anonymous until a person who you clicked “bang” for clicks “bang” for you. Then it connects you two together so you can do what the app intends for you to do-meet up and bang.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that this is an app teenagers, or anyone for that matter, should not be messing with. There is no value in it what so ever! It doesn’t seem like this app has blown up to the point of an app like Snapchat, but I’m sure it will eventually. But it’s out there and teenagers, have access to it. Research show that 100,000 hookups have already taken place with the help of this app.

If you are a parent and you have a teenagers that has this app installed, please be the parent and do something about it! If they have no clue what it is and are not using it, inform yourself and be ready to address it if it ever comes up. Lastly, student pastors and youth workers, let’s expose this crap for what it is. It’s sexual immorality and promoting sex in a way God did not design it.

Jonathan McKee, a student ministry blogger, wrote an excellent post on this app that I would recommend you take a look at.

Note: I am not trying to promote inappropriate content and images in this post by posting links to the app’s website. My goal is to inform parents and youth workers about this app.