What Every Parent Should Know About Formspring: The New Cyberscourge for Teens

By | March 29th, 2010 | 101 comments

Last week, a Long Island high school senior committed suicide, and the website Formspring.me is suspected as a cause. Yet most parents don’t even know it exists. Formspring is the latest cyberscourge for teens. It lets you open an account and allows your anonymous audience – usually your classmates – to communicate with brutal honesty. By which I mean breathtaking cruelty.

Formspring takes cybercruelty to a new low by making it appear consensual. You sign up for your own account, literally inviting others to bash you with their “honest” opinions. Because it appears consensual, it no longer seems like cybercruelty at all. It just becomes another avenue for teens to communicate, and it desensitizes them to what they’re doing.

“I hate you,” writes one peer.
“You’re slutty,” opines another.

Account holders are always able to respond, and most act as if they don’t care.

“I’d f*** you,” muses one.
“thanks I mean very blunt but still flattering,” responds the account holder.

Remember, these are often friends writing the comments. To wit:

“I’ve known you for a long time. you’re not even that good at soccer. you just had one really good season…”

As you might expect, cyberbombs like this usually launch the account holder into an extended freak out about who could have written it. Imagine walking the halls or sitting in class, never knowing who is saying what on your Formspring. Not exactly conducive to good focus on your studies, if you get my drift.

I suspect girls are especially vulnerable to Formspring for several reasons:

1.    Most girls are passionately invested in their friendships and what others think of them. At the same time, they constantly second guess their peers about what they really think and mean. As I showed in The Curse of the Good Girl, the ubiquity of “just kidding” and the pressure to keep friendships conflict-free force lots of truth underground. Girls know it. Formspring gives you a perverse chance to “really find out what others think of you.”

2.    Many girls define social success as being liked by everyone. Despite my best efforts as a speaker, educator and mentor to tell girls that it just ain’t gonna happen, Formspring lets hope spring eternal: you can open an account and maybe, just maybe, you won’t get a mean comment. You’ll be that girl who everyone really loves!

There is zero, and I mean zero, value in this website and no girl or boy should spend a minute on it. Formspring creates unnecessary emotional risks. It legitimizes cybercruelty and divorces kids from responsibility for their words. You can pretty much file Formspring along with wouldn’t-it-be-fun-to-stand-on the-railroad-tracks-and-jump-right-before-the-train-comes and I’m-sure-no-one-will-notice-if-I-just-pocket-this-one-mascara.

So what to do? Here’s what I suggest. Start a conversation with your daughter about Formspring. Ask her if people at school use it (don’t start off by grilling her about what she does or she may scare and fly away). Ask her what she thinks of it. Then ask her if she uses it.

If she says yes, tell her she’s banned for life from the website. Period. Here’s what I tell kids when I suggest they to stop using it:

1.    It’s an invitation for people to be evil to each other without taking responsibility, which means people will exaggerate and even outright lie just to hurt you.
2.    By inviting people to say harmful things to you, and spending time reading about it, you disrespect yourself.
3.    There will always be haters. You will never be someone who is 100% liked by everyone. That doesn’t mean you need to set up a website to catalog who those people are. Focus on the relationships that bring you happiness and security, not people who tear you down.

Even if your daughter says no one has ever said anything mean to her, hold your ground. It’s only a matter of time.

If your daughter denies having an account, open your own account here (it’s very easy) and begin searching for your daughter by her name. Most kids include their full names in their accounts.

If you know me, you know I’m not in the habit of telling you to go behind your kid’s back. You can imagine how dangerous I find this website if I’m urging you to do it at all.

Listen to what I have to say to girls about Formspring in this episode of BFF 2.0.

101 Responses to “What Every Parent Should Know About Formspring: The New Cyberscourge for Teens”

  • […] examples? Often regarded as the  cyberscourge of the internet for anonymous rude, crude queries, bullying snipes and snarky take-downs, analysts […]

  • […] Rachel J. Simmons, the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, works internationally to address bullying and empower girls and loudly voices her concerns. Here is part of Rachel’s warnings from her blog,”What Every Parent Should Know About Formspring“: […]

  • Liva says:

    Some of your points is right, but the hide-feature is used for so much more. It’s fun and actuallu I’ve received a lot more messages like “I like you, but how can I contact you?” Or “You look so good, etc.etc.etc.”
    If you receive any rude or hatefull messages, it is easy to ban the person, or set your profile so no one can ask you with hidden name.

  • Lucy says:

    Do you honestly think telling a tween or teen that they are straight up BANNED from using a website is going to work or help or…? How about teaching your child to respect themselves and not to indulge in cyber bullying on either side of the issue? How about talking to them about self esteem and online issues? Banning a teenager from doing anything is just going to get YOU banned from their life. They’re going to do it anyway, so why not teach them to ignore/delete rude questions? I must be the only parent who remembers being a teenager.

  • Katelyn says:

    The thing is. Formspring isn’t all that bad. For starters you can choose to simply delete the post. You don’t have to spend time answering it or posting it. Just delete the sucker and be done with it. Another thing is, my formspring is used completely to help people who need that encouragement. I have never received a bad comment ever. All I have gotten were questions on how I am doing with my writing, and people asking for advice. It’s a great ministry opportunity to share a Christ Like opinion about dating and drama and boys and worldly subjects. And that’s all it was used for. People have messaged me and told me how much my simple answer has helped them and for that I am thankful to formspring for helping me make someone else smile.

  • Emily says:

    @Angela LaRoche
    I agree that the opinions of teenagers should not be discarded or discouraged. I disagree, though, that parents should monitor their children’s social networking sites. Unless the pages are devoid of privacy settings, they were not meant for their parents’ eyes.
    Any amount of surveillance is not sufficient to end all secrets between child and parent. Keeping secrets from your parents is a part of growing up.
    Still, formspring is a useless website and while I’m not hard set against it, I do think it’s a waste of time. At my high school it’s already obsolete simply because it’s less effective and entertaining than sites like facebook.
    With regards to parents having a more equipped skill set, this is definitely true in most cases, but in social networking, my parents, for example, remain blissfully oblivious, as it were. So when it comes to something like driving, if your teen is acting like they know more about it than you do, it’s fair to say that that’s their underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex talking; if your kid thinks they know more about the internet than you do, however, that could be valid, simply because this generation has grown up immersed in the online world. Basically, I think that formspring can be benign or malicious depending on susceptibility of the user, and that parents should not immediately put their foot down if they find out that their kid has one. And one last thing, in the case of sexual remarks posted on formspring, being teenagers with raging hormones these are not seen as crude necessarily. Being parents, these kinds of comments about your children are immediately seen as horrid and profane, naturally. Both sides are biased.

  • To those of you that are under 18 leaving comments about parents being too controlling and overreacting:
    While I think it’s great you all have an opinion and share it with others – seriously, some kids – some ADULTS do not. They keep it in and never voice their opinion – anyway, while I think it’s great, I want to make a point none of you are going to like. There is a reason you have parents. There is a reason we are responsible for you until you mature -or are legally of age, not always the same thing in my opinion . We make decisions for and about you until you can handle doing it yourselves. Until you are an actual adult, you really do not have the skill set, intellect or maturity to make decisions about your own safety. Your brains are not developed completely the minute you decide to join the social networking world. There are many skills and experiences you do not have yet. This is where we -as your parents – come in. Not only should you not be making the decision to join this site – or one like it – without your parents permission and regular supervision, but the parents that do not care to get involved are ignorant and negligent.
    Whether you think we are overreacting or being too controlling- it doesn’t really matter. We make the decisions because we are equipped to do so. If you were meant to or were capable of raising yourselves you would have been hatched from an egg

  • momwhocares says:

    The only good thing about Formspring is that it keeps me informed of the goings on in my kid’s world and it is SCARY! The site should be shut down just the same.

    • Susan says:

      There must be a way for parents to collectively get that site shut down; especially in the wake of the recent suicides. Or, at the least, some rules & monitoring established. Perhaps take away their choice to say things without revealing their identity?

  • […] publicly posted photographs of an outing or party you did not attend, or a personal web page like Formspring, can send a girl into paroxysms of anxiety and […]

  • yadadameann says:

    formspring isnt bad you guys are just to sensitive. big babies. if anyone says something mean on formspring its cause theyre jealous, nobody goes around bashing people that as bashable. jeez adults.

  • Almost16girl says:

    I had my account since january this year on formspring and yeah,some post aren’t really cool. I even had stuffs saying Im so f*cking ugly and it was sent to like everyone. But I didn’t really mind it for it still depends on the person how to take it. I still have it and go into it once in a while. There are actually nice people out there whom you can meet and I made friends out of there too. It’s not really bad. If you don’t want stupid questions on your inbox then visit your settings and customize it that there’ll be no anonymous questions and formspring users can only ask you plus you can protect your account. Formspring isn’t really evil all the way. You dont have to believe everything awful it says. It can be fun too.

  • heresmyopinion says:

    Okay, I am 16 years old and here is my take on Formspring. It is stupid. For those that go on there, it is a waste of time and many of them are simply looking for someone to write something nice about them when they understand that Formspring is a place where people release all sorts of inappropriate and rude comments. They are longing to be wanted and liked, if even by one person, much like any teenage girl. This website was popular at my school a couple years ago and a few girls’ lives were threatened on this website. But because it was an anonymous website no one could discover who the person was. Fortunately, nothing happened and it seemed to be an empty threat from someone wanting to scare someone else. However, this is a useless website that has no purpose even existing. It does not help anyone to connect wiht anyone else, especially because it is anonymous. It is not a social networking site but a place for people to unleash on one another and be supported in these actions. Formspring is a website that should be taken down, enough people have lost their lives because of the abuse that goes on with it and someone should see this and attempt to shut it down, once and for all.

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