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Yik Yuck
Houston Chronicle Editorial 4/29/14

During the settlement of the West, pioneers and their children were under threat due to many dangers including American Indians, wildfires, cougars, tornadoes, rattlesnakes and mountain lions.

Depending on their location, these pioneer families often weren't safe when they locked their doors at night.

We like to think of ourselves as having made progress. But is it so?

Through the Internet, our children are potentially under threat inside our homes even if our doors are locked tight, and our elaborate burglar alarms are set.

The latest tech bogeyman: A free mobile app called Yik Yak ("Yik Yak talks back - schools listen," Page 1A, April 21). Chronicle reporter Lisa Gray described the app, which allows users within a 1.5-mile radius to post anything anonymously, as a kind of "cyber bathroom wall."

Imagine what you might have posted if you were 12 to 14 years old and could have said anything you wanted under cloak of anonymity. And then ramp it up quite a bit. Sadly, amidst the racist, sexist, profane and drug-related posts, or "yaks," as they are called, there's a fair amount of bullying going on. Earlier this month, we heard of 50 negative references on Yik Yak to a particular adolescent boy.

Just as the settlers couldn't build a fence to protect their children from all the dangers, the virtual fences that Yik Yak's founders have erected are ineffective.

These virtual fences, which surround some middle school and high schools in the United States, ensure that the app won't work inside school property. But there's nothing to stop the kids once they leave the campus from logging on.

The dangers in the Old West were so prevalent and multifarious that it was impossible to foresee all the situations a child would face (the early nor'easter bringing the record snow), much less to teach a child how to protect himself from threats that the parent had never faced (those unexpected raiding parties).

Similarly, as noted by Jennifer Blaine, associate superintendent for administration and operations at Spring Branch Independent School District, "We don't know what app is going to arise in the future."

Just as pioneer parents trained their children to stay calm in the face of unforeseen dangers, we need to teach our children that nothing on the Internet is ever truly anonymous and that they do not have to respond to mean comments or make them themselves. Only when we fully arm our children with problem-solving tools, can we lock our doors at night - safe, at least, from cyber-harm.