App lets teens comment anonymously, raising concerns about cyberbullying

What parents should look for on their kids' phones

By Owen Conflenti - Anchor, Aaron Wische - Senior Executive Producer

HOUSTON - Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, even more enjoyable. But for some of the youngest and most vulnerable users, it can have the opposite effect.

It can be used as a powerful weapon by bullies.

"What has happened in the area of cyberbullying -- now the internet has almost become like a loaded gun. If left out, unsupervised, it could have deadly consequences," psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Bober said.

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that being bullied is related to having suicidal thoughts and committing suicide. Technology is adding fuel to the fire.

One mother, who asked not to be identified, found the latest form of cyberbullying on her stepson's cellphone. It's an app called Sarahah.

"It's not the kind of bullying we grew up with. It was apparently designed for peers to give constructive criticism to each other," she said.

But now anyone can download it and use it without identifying themselves. And the ability to hide behind the cloak of anonymity is causing an increase in attacks.

"I saw a bunch that were assessing sexuality, addressing body type," the mother said.

"With the anonymity, I've seen it can go from a peer making fun of another peer for being overweight (to) telling them they should take their own life," Bober said.

The mother interviewed for this story shut down the interaction between her child and the person on the app before things escalated.

"We immediately deleted the app and I had him delete his account. You don't always know as a parent what's going on with your child until it's too late, and that's what scares me for other children as well as my own," she said.

Texas' new anti-bullying law took effect in September. It makes bullying a misdemeanor crime and allows victims to file restraining orders against bullies.

Click here to learn more about Sarahah.

Copyright 2018 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.