There are more and more stories on the Internet about children and teens who have used social media in the wrong way – whether that’s to bully a peer, to criticize a friend, or to disclose information that really should have stayed private. These scenarios have led to lawsuits, suicide, depression, and death. In other words, sometimes what teens say on social media sites can lead to serious consequences.
Social Media = Not Always a Good Thing
For example, two girls in Florida were arrested and charged with felonies after bullying a peer. Their peer, only 12 years old, committed suicide after months of ongoing bullying through aggressive online messages and texts. Although the young girl transferred to another school, the bullying continued. Up to 15 girls were assaulting her through messages that told her to “drink bleach and die”. Sadly, one girl admitted that she didn’t care that she died. Two of the girls who bullied her were charged with felonies and will spend time in juvenile detention.
In another story, a senior in high school was suspended and later charged with a felony for admitting that he supposedly kissed a teacher at his school. The incident began when he answered the question, “Did he ever make out with a 28-year old teacher at school?” He tweeted back, “Actually, yeah”. Many consequences ensued at school and then as a reaction the senior’s parents have filed a federal lawsuit saying that the actions taken by their son’s school principal weren’t fair.
Social Media Etiquette
Teens should know that just like in face-to-face conversation, there are social etiquettes to follow. And parents, caregivers, and even teachers can educate teens on the ways to appropriately communicate online. Furthermore, in addition to simply being polite, adolescents should know not to fall prey to the illusion of being anonymous. It’s like when adults are driving – there’s more of a tendency to express anger or rage even – because it’s safer to express your true feelings when you’re not facing someone directly. The same is true online.
On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s easy to express true feelings because the person is not in front of you. In fact, as the Internet becomes more and more popular as a means of communication, the web and social media are becoming a venue for bullying. This includes the use of texting or cellular phones to post images or text on the web. For instance, an image and demeaning messages might be posted on Facebook (social bullying), uploading embarrassing images, or spreading gossip or rumors through instant or text messaging. There are a number of ways to cause humiliation for another person if someone had the intention to do so.
It should be noted that when adults are harassing children or teens, it is known as cyber harassment or cyber stalking and has different legal consequences. Cyber Bullying, on the other hand, happens when a child is harassed, embarrassed, threatened, or tormented using digital technology.
When a teen becomes the victim of cyber bullying, it can be detrimental to his or her self-esteem. It can contribute to depression and even suicide, as mentioned above. Clearly, it’s essential that parents and caregivers protect their teens from the words, images, and harmful conversations that happen on the Internet. Furthermore, parents can also facilitate safe communication for teens that use social media as means for connecting with their friends. They can educate their adolescents not only on the etiquette of social communication but also on the need to save their true feelings for one on one interaction. And in the case of the senior, whose parents are not involved with a lawsuit, parents can also teach their teens how to withhold information that might be damaging to another person’s career and well being.
Essentially, social media is not a means for communicating what you can’t say to someone face to face. And it’s not a place to harm, belittle, or harass. The more children, adolescents, and adults know this, the safer the Internet will be.