Guest Blog: A Mother’s Battle to Get Her Daughter Off Formspring

By | June 9th, 2011 | 11 comments

by Stacy Pena

What’s one of the most important things to a typical tween or teen girl? Her friends, of course. And when it comes to her social circle, what do many girls care about more than anything? What their friends think of them. Enter Formspring, a comment-and-reply social networking site that lets kids post their deepest, darkest opinions completely anonymously.

Formspring was a running four-month-long nightmare for my daughter, her friends, and extended school community — and we still battle my daughter’s “need” to know what her friends post on the site. The kids were all being incredibly vicious to each other, as well as asking really creepy questions. What made it all creepier is that the questions could have been asked by the boy they sit next to in History … or by a 40-year-old man, since anyone can access Formspring.

My daughter was so addicted that she kept reactivating her account behind our backs, even though the consequences were severe each time — one week of no phone and no computer access. She kept saying “I HAVE TO know what people think of me!” That’s Formspring’s greatest danger: It preys on the no. 1 concern of many girls.

Cruel Comments

The site describes itself as “helping people find out more about each other through sharing interesting & personal responses.” But, in simple terms, Formspring is the present-day version of the bathroom stall on steroids, enabling the cruelest form of bullying with the greatest of ease. The comments and questions are typically nasty and humiliating.

Here are some Formspring posts recently copied from my daughter’s friends’ pages (multiple profanities omitted):

ur fat

ur stomach hangs ovr ur pants

Your face looks like a turtle

Your friend Anne is going around telling everyone ur fake and bitchy

You should just go die

And in addition to the personal attacks, comments are frequently sexual in nature:

I want to bang you so hard

Name all the slutty things you’ve done

Signing Off — And Staying Off

To an emerging teenager with a developing sense of self, a girl to whom popularity is paramount, reading posts on Formspring can become an obsession.

We’ve chosen to forbid my daughter from using it, and she understands why. But we’ve discovered that it’s really hard to get your kids off it once they start. One circle of friends is no longer using it, in large part because the parents got involved in policing it. But other friends are as active as ever, which makes it hard for her to stay away.

Spread the Word

Fortunately, Formspring is coming to the attention of parents, schools, and even industry experts. Rachel Simmons’s must-read post, called “What Every Parent Should Know About Formspring,” has likened parental consent for Formspring to allowing your child to play chicken with an oncoming train.

We continue to work with our daughter and her friends’ parents to help avoid the problems associated with Formspring. Here are some key lessons we’ve learned the hard way. Hope they work for your family, too:

Keep checking. It’s nearly impossible to disable Formspring. Even after being “disabled,” an account leaps back to life in full form with one click; once you’ve created a profile, you’re met each visit with a question asking whether you’d like to reactivate your profile. Disabling and enabling an account is essentially the same as logging off and back on. The only way to truly erase an account is to send a ticket stating that you have been bullied or harassed. It’s buried in the Help section, but you can access it here. But obviously, your child can just open a new account.

Talk to other parents. If you find out that your kid has been on Formspring, look through her list of connections for kids you know. Consider reaching out to their parents to educate them about Formspring (perhaps by sending a link to this article?). If they knew what it was, they likely wouldn’t want their child on it.

Get the word out. Launched in late 2009, Formspring already has more than 20 million accounts and 3.5 million unique visitors every day. The company recently received $11.5 million in funding. It’s not going away. Yet it’s so new that many adults aren’t even aware of it. Help spread the word to educators, administrators, coaches, clergy, and other adults working with teens.

Stacy Pena is the founder of Rainmaker Communications, a marketing consulting business, and a mother of two. She has written for Silicon Valley Moms Blog and Whoosh!, the Girls Leadership Institute blog.  This post originally appeared at Common Sense Media and was reposted with permission.

11 Responses to “Guest Blog: A Mother’s Battle to Get Her Daughter Off Formspring”

  • Wow! I hadn’t heard of this site, and am deeply concerned. I use a program (FREE one!) called K9 Web Protection on all of my kids computers. I blocked Youtube for a long time, and can make changes to what I block at any time and see what they are up to. Believe me, they know how to delete their history! I am adding this site on there right NOW, and also making the school aware of this. Our school will involve themselves when children are being attacked on Facebook, so I am sure they need this info also! Thank you soooooo much for the information!

  • Worried says:

    How do you find out if your child is on it? My son says he is not, but who knows? There doesn’t seem to be any way to search.

    • Stacy Pena says:

      Check the history in his browser. If he deletes his history, it’s up to you if that’s grounds for consequences; in our family it is. Why would you delete your history unless you have something to hide? Also, a friend told me she found her high school-aged son on Formspring by Googling his name.

  • It is shocking to know that you are unable to block this site from your computer…

    • Stacy Pena says:

      A friend read my post and told me to check out something called OpenDNS which allows you to block websites from your home network. I haven’t checked it out yet. Also, I do know you can block websites from Macs pretty easily; it’s harder from a PC.

  • Natalie says:

    A 15 year old girl committed suicide two month ago because of comments she read about herself on Formspring. Sad and tragic. It is so hard to parent these days.

  • Debbie Lampert says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I heard of this a year ago and it frightened me to even think of it. I can’t believe anyone would want to sign up on this. I would never give someone that ability to say something about me without telling me who it is.

  • I’ve never heard of this site. How awful.

  • Carole says:

    My young teenage daughter was bullied insidiously on formspring,and she didn’t even have an account! The older girl who was tormenting her asked questions and had someone post vicious answers containg information that would make readers believe my daughter had written the replies. My daughter was devastated, and the entire crowd sided with the perpetrator. It needs to go. Rachel is SOOOOO right.

  • Steve Graves says:

    Thank you for the education. My girls are older now. But, they still went through the time when they were panic-stricken about what everyone thought about them. Being a dad who worked/traveled a lot, I admit that I wasn’t very supportive of either of them as they went through this process of developing their self-esteem. My question is have there been any studies regarding to the amount of support (or lack of same) that young girls get at home especially from their fathers and their addiction to this type of feedback?

    Thanks for your support.

    • Stacy Pena says:

      Steve–I don’t know the answer to your question but I can tell you that my husband read a book that he highly recommends to his friends: Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters by Margaret Meeker.

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