Clever tweens and teens are using the online file sharing suite to connect with friends without their parents knowing.

By Rebecca Macatee
March 11, 2019
teen girl laying on bed looking at laptop
Credit: Netfalls Remy Musser/Shutterstock

March 11, 2019

We try to keep tabs on what our kids are up to online, but technology sure can make things tricky. Because while we've learned a whole lot about texting, Snapchat, Fortnite, etc., there are other online platforms—like Google Docs, for example—that have far more varied uses than you might think.

Many parents have let their tweens and teens use Google Docs unsupervised for schoolwork and group projects. It seems like a harmless, straightforward way to share files and documents online, but for a lot of kids, Google Docs doubles as an unmonitored place to chat with friends. And in some cases, the file hosting site becomes a free-for-all forum for cyberbullying.

The problem here, as highlighted by LifeHacker, is that Google Docs makes it really easy to hide any of secret conversations from parents. After the chat is over, teens can simply delete the document and empty their trash. Mom and dad will be none the wiser!

If kids are using Google Docs to chat in secret or share memes with friends while their parents think they're doing homework, that's one thing. But when kids use Google Docs to gang up on each other, it's a serious matter. And unfortunately, there are plenty of kids using Google Docs to trash classmates or share damaging information meant to humiliate and embarrass their peers.

According to Bark, a parental control phone tracker that monitors social media, text, and email on Android and iPhone devices, they've seen more than 60,000 cases "of kids ganging up on other children in Google Docs."

In some instances, kids "work in tandem to write mean or hurtful things in a shared Google Doc," Bark's blog states. "In other cases, kids create private, digital 'burn books' and invite others to contribute while leaving out the teased child."

Of course, no parent wants their child to be targeted, and we never want our kids to be involved in bullying someone else, either. And while we can try to monitor everything our kids do online, they're always going to be one step ahead of us and finding clever, creative ways to communicate while keeping us in the dark. That's why it's so important to teach kids about digital safety and how to protect themselves from bullying.

The best thing parents can do? Encourage kids to keep those lines of communication open. If they see someone being bullied—online or in real life—make sure they know that they can (and should) come to an adult for help.