Submitted by Officer Greg Hanson (Memorial High School Educational Resource Officer):
I don't know about you, but I remember when it was nearly impossible to get a hold of a friend...say, after dark. Thanks to the internet and smart phones, teenagers today have the "luxury" of being able to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances at any time of the day or night. As parents, I think we should realize that this is not such a good idea. Although there are some positives related to social media, it also poses certain negative effects (psychologically and socially) on today's youth. There are numerous issues I could touch on, but will focus on two things I am dealing with on a more consistent basis here at Memorial....Texting and Cyber Bullying.
While texting may be a convenience, it is important to educate your teen about how what they send can be used against them. Most cases of bullying and sexual predation occur through text messaging. While a teenager may be raised with important core values, he or she still might become a victim of peer pressure. With access to a smart phone, your child has the capability to send and receive images and texts to and from virtually anyone. Yes, your child could fall prey to people they may or may not know who will encourage them to send or receive nude or suggestive photos.
Bullying is a serious threat that happens every day. I can remember when the school bully would threaten to punch a kid in the face for lunch money. These days, the threats do not end on the playground or the school's halls. Since teenagers are still in their formative stage, cyber bullying can pose a major threat to their emotional and physical well being.
Cyber bullying may occur in many ways. Sending threatening messages, posting a humiliating comment about a person, and leaving hurtful comments on a picture are common forms of cyber bullying. The insults may be to someone they know personally or random individuals they choose. Research also shows that this form of harassment is potentially more dangerous than offline bullying. It has been linked to heightened cases of depression and anxiety in teenagers. Cyber bullying has also led to a number of suicides and suicide attempts.
The problems this new online society creates are not going away and will continue to grow. Parents must get involved! Parents have the responsibility to protect their children and be aware of what is going on in the online world. Investigate and help your child adjust privacy settings. Be aware of who can see what they post and what is being posted about them. Talk with them about online safety. Make sure your teenagers have plenty of offline time as well. Restrict the time and frequency of online interaction.
Ideas from my home:
- Place all phones in the docking station at night where they are required to stay until everyone leaves for work and school in the morning.
- Consider allowing siblings to share a phone they can "check out" from mom or dad.
- Create family-determined "unplugged" hours when children have to participate in other activities such as outdoor games, reading, talking, playing together, etc.
Social media has a tremendous effect on us today, but with parental participation and your child's cooperation, the effects can be positive for everyone.