Wednesday, October 7, 2015

     My daughter, who is an anti-bullying activist, suggested I watch Anderson Cooper’s special on CNN discussing Social Media among 13-year-olds. Wow. What a revelation that was. First of all, I am grateful not to have a 13-year-old or even worse be a 13-year-old. The words of young people discussing all facets of their “real” lives versus their “cyber” lives was mind-boggling. As a parent of mothers of young children and as a former teacher, I sat “bouche-bée” (mouth dropped open) listening to these kids. 

     Here are a few of the findings that resonated with me:

  1. Kids post TBRs:  To Be Rude 
  2. Kids admit that their cyber personas are very different from who they really are.
  3. Kids admit that they engage in “revenge” posts (posting naked photos of former boy or girlfriends or spreading untrue gossip online.)
  4. Kids admit to gathering “likes” and “followers” no matter what the consequences.
  5. One girl said she has over 1500 followers, most of whom she doesn’t know.
  6. One post could generate thousands of followers - Self-esteem is apparently defined by the number of “likes” and “followers.”
  7. Kids can also be “unfriended” or dissed so self-esteem can plummet as a result. The constant “checking” is addictive.
  8. Kids are humiliated and humiliate others on social media so the ramifications can be even more devastating. One embarrassing post has the entire school talking.
  9. Kids don’t talk to their parents about their conflicts with their friends. They don’t think parents understand. These conflicts unfold on social media. This has been labeled “social combat.”
  10. There are predators who post false profiles just to get access to young kids.
  11. 2/3 of parents interviewed stated that they were unaware of the conflicts and feelings of their children’s loneliness and depression.
  12. Many parents said they don’t monitor their kids’ social media.

   My take-away here is that there is a whole cyber world that didn’t exist in my day or even my children’s day. This world is foreign to many parents, and they feel helpless in controlling it. It’s all about “what do my friends think of me?” and “am I included?” In the past, if you weren’t invited to a party, you felt sad. Now if you aren’t invited to a party, it’s plastered all over the internet so your humiliation is public. Public humiliation is one of everyone’s worst fears so the consequences on social media can be devastating.

     So what can parents do? Experts say “Get on the sites your kids are on so you know how it all works, and talk to your kids about it. Find a way to earn their trust so they can talk, yes, talk to you about it.” Not so easy for many responsible parents. 

     In my humble opinion, parents need to model behavior, not just preach about it. If I’m walking around with my phone attached to my palm 24/7, what message am I giving my kids? If the family is on their phones at meal time, what does that do for communication? If I’m phubbing my spouse, what message am I giving him and my kids?  If I’m online checking my “likes,” what am I saying about myself? 

     One reaction I had was to keep kids involved in sports, music, church and school activities so they don’t have so much time to be online. Unfortunately, they will always find time to connect with their friends, even at 3 a.m. With 10 grandchildren, this gives me much about which to be concerned.