Q: My child has been spending a lot of time on a social media app called Lipsi. It seems to be causing a lot of drama. What is it and should I be concerned?
Lipsi is a smartphone app that allows you to send anonymous messages to nearby friends. My middle school students are all about the app, so I asked them to tell me more about it.
It works kind of like this: You find someone in your neighborhood that you know and send them anonymous comments. You know who they are, but they don’t know you unless you “swipe up,” revealing your identity.
The Lipsi company pushes the app for three main purposes:
- To get anonymous “feedback” from friends and followers.
- To “stay in the loop with your closest friends.” Lipsi encourages users to give friends “your honest thoughts or some constructive feedback.”
- To advocate for “mental health.” Lipsi says you can use the app to confide in your friends or so they can confide in you.
All of this is, of course, preposterous. Even if I take Lipsi at face value (and I don’t), their revolutionary “uses” for the app defy credulity.
What kind of “friends” give their friends “anonymous feedback” (i.e. “criticism”)? A true friend is someone you can be open with. A friend is someone you can trust to be honest with you. Why would you want them to suddenly come to the relationship in disguise?
In reality, Lipsi’s draw isn’t that you can receive anonymous comments. It’s that you can provide them. The app is often used to hurl nasty, abusive “truths” that even teens would be squeamish to give face to face. Imagine what it would be like to show up at work one day and find a stack of anonymous notes on your desk that said “you’re fat,” “you’re stupid,” “you’re ugly,” or “you’re worthless and nobody likes you. You should go kill yourself.”
Welcome to Lipsi. You’re an adult and you might be able to handle such vilification through a complex system of coping skills you’ve acquired over the years, yet you’d still probably cry yourself to sleep every night knowing how people really feel about you. Imagine what a teen is going through.
Imagine, too, what kind of social structure the next generation is forging by encouraging the solicitation of nameless acquaintances to provide them with “constructive feedback.” Are we talking about friendships or annual work reviews? Sadly, today’s children are having a hard time finding the line between positive, healthy relationships and the kind of hidden, superficial digital evaluations we associate with the worst aspects of online dating.
Lipsi’s most hilarious lie is that its app is used to better “mental health.” The reality is that the app is contributing to the alarmingly rapid deterioration of our children’s mental stability. A recent study by the American Psychological Association demonstrated that mental health problems, including mood disorders and suicidal-related outcomes, are on a steep rise among adolescents. The researchers explain that, “The increase in adolescent major depressive episodes began after 2011, concurrent with the increased ownership of smartphones and a concomitant increase in digital media time.”
It’s not difficult to see how apps like Lipsi are contributing to this new wave of mental disintegration. It was hard enough as a teen in our age constantly wondering if people liked you. It’s even harder when you’re certain they don’t because they’ve told you outright − repeatedly, in print where you can stare at it forever − that you are a worthless, hideous, disgusting piece of human garbage.
Defenders of the app will say anything can be abused, but if used properly, Lipsi can enhance positive relationships and contribute to teens’ sense of security and well-being. Nice try, but as a teacher I know better. I see the tears, the conflict, the suicide attempts, the isolation, and the emotional fragility that has been inflicted on our children by the malignant force of social media. While I may be able to accede to the defenders’ fundamental premise, they should defer to the reality that teenagers simply aren’t as a group mature enough to manage the cruel power of unrestrained anonymity.
I’ve often warned parents that unlike them, today’s children live in two different worlds: The one you see and the one you don’t that is entered via a glowing tunnel inside the thin rectangle that is constantly at their fingertips. If you value your children’s sanity, you will not waver in your judicious oversight of both worlds.