CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - If your family includes a tween or teen with a smartphone, you need to know about an app called "tbh" -- it has exploded in popularity in recent weeks, with millions of middle and high schoolers now using it every day. But while the app claims to be all about positivity, experts say "tbh" is something parents need to watch carefully.
On a recent visit to Dixie Heights High School, it didn't take long to spot a kid using "tbh" -- short for "to be honest."
It's a social networking platform that lets users anonymously answer and create polls about classmates. Moderators with "tbh" must approve the questions, which they claim keeps the content positive. Kids rack up gems if their names are chosen in those polls. But experts say there are some big red flags with this app.
Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders, a father of a tween himself, is concerned "tbh" collects too much personal data from its young users.
"First name, last name, age, gender, and school, right there is enough for them to find your kid," Sanders said.
Kids can't use the "tbh" app unless they allow it to access their phone's location and contacts, too. There's also no verification process, so anyone could sign up and claim to attend a certain school, even an adult.
And even with the emphasis on positivity, "tbh" can be used as a tool for bullying. That's because tweens and teens tend to invent their own language of sorts, with code words that vary from region to region, even school to school. Those terms go right over the heads of adults.
"I've got a daughter who's 10 years old, sometimes I can't even understand what she and her friends are saying to one another when they're talking," Sanders said.
Kids also figure out fast how to rig those polls and conspire with friends to stack the results so they can accumulate gems faster. Not bad if you're in the in-crowd, but what if your name is never chosen, or even included?
Experts also worry about a relatively new feature that allows users to message each other.
"Just the fact that you can send direct messages anonymous, it's the perfect situation for cyber bullies," said Tara Sides, the Reducing Barriers to Learning director for Kenton County schools.
She says they teach students that part of using social media responsibly is owning what you say on it. Posting anonymously runs counter to that. And tweens and teens often don't grasp the true size of their online audience, either -- something previous generations didn't have to worry about.
"Somebody would write something on a bathroom wall. And maybe fifteen people would see it? Social media's like a bathroom wall, but 100,000 of your closest friends get to see whatever you wrote," Sides said.
Part of the reason the app has spread like wildfire is it collects users contacts and then scans them to see which kids are already a part of "tbh." But it doesn't stop there.
"It will send invitations to the ones -- to your friends who are not members, so that's how it grows," Sides said.
So what do parents need to do?
- First, keep tabs on which apps your child is downloading from the app store!
- Better yet, set up parental controls so you have to approve each app before it’s downloaded
- And if they already have “tbh," talk to them about how they’re using it, and whether they’ve seen other kids bullying classmates on it
Sanders says it's important kids understand an app shouldn't make them feel really good, or really bad about themselves.
"This is not what you get your own self-worth from, you get this from having good friends, and good relationships with good people, not from anything you ever see on the Internet or on an iPhone," Sanders said.