Today logged on to Twitter for my morning peruse on the view of the world through the eyes of those that tweet about it. It was the usual mix of news, sport, satire and happy clapper celebrities with their shameless self-promotion. Then I came across this from Jeremy Vine:
The girl who was the face of the Australian outback hat firm Akubra, has taken her own life aged 14 because of cyberbullying. Her father said the bullies should come to her funeral to see what they had done. #Dolly
*Sharing this because online bullies are a threat to life* pic.twitter.com/YZn8Ewar84
— Jeremy Vine (@theJeremyVine) January 10, 2018
Who is Dolly?
Initially, I didn’t know who Dolly was but clicking on the hashtag soon brought me this BBC news story – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-42631208#_=_. It made me shudder. I shed a tear and it brutally brought home to me how vulnerable my own 14 and 13-year-old daughters actually are.
I re-tweeted Mr Vine’s tweet adding my own thoughts:
Inconceivably sad. My eldest is 14 and I just want to go now and give her a big cuddle. The fact is parent’s of teenagers today didn’t grow up in an on-line world and haven’t a clue how they are coping with it. #Dolly #StopBullyingNow https://t.co/kpoRjliFTv
— Yorkshire Dad of 4 (@yorkshiredadof4) January 10, 2018
I got a bit of a surprise when Mr Vine re-tweeted my re-tweet of his original tweet (you may want to read that twice!). My phone started lighting up like a Christmas tree with notifications. People who follow him liking and further re-tweeting my re-tweet. It was then I realised this subject really has struck a nerve.
When I was at school I suffered some low-level bullying. Nothing that ever went too far (unless you count the “boxing match” I was persuaded to get into where I got walloped in front of an amused crowd) but sometimes enough to mean I was grateful to reach the sanctuary of my home in the afternoon after school.
Teenagers today, or rather those using social media (which is most of them), no longer have that sanctuary. They are still connected to all those people they left behind at school or on the school bus. There is no escape. They could turn their phones off, but then they have to use the computer for homework. The temptation to check in on social media is there. Or emails, yes they are still a thing to teenagers!
When our eldest was born I was 23 and it was 2003. Social media wasn’t really on my radar although I think I was aware of MSN Messenger which essentially was an early form of social media. My research tells me that there was a social media platform called Hi5, launched that year, but some 15 years later I’ve never heard of it! I had been working in IT for 3 years when she was born and the internet for me was for email and a source of information when asking Jeeves was still acceptable.
I did use Friends Reunited, and of course looking back this was an early form of social media. It wasn’t until 2007 did I join Facebook. Going back further still though I didn’t experience the Internet at all until I was 16 and started work and it was a while later before I got it at home.
Social Media and Teens
My point being is that I, nor my wife, didn’t go through our teenage years with social media and all the negativity it can bring. There is no doubt that social media is a good thing and has positive sides (where else would I get my daily dose of cat videos?) such as keeping up with family and friends for example. But everything has a dark side; social media platforms are like cities and all cities have really nice areas and really shitty ones, they have really nice friendly people and those that you’d just rather not share oxygen with.
Our teenage girls weren’t allowed the platforms they are on until they reached the age requirement of 13. That’s a start as far too many parents allow their kids to sign up using a false date of birth and I know of 9/10 years old on Facebook and Instagram – that’s wrong, totally wrong. They also know they are only allowed to use it on the proviso we as parents have access to their accounts and police it – how many parents do that? I recently saw a post on Facebook (oh the irony) from a friend who was saying happy birthday to his teenage son (he was 13 – the age requirement for Facebook) and he stated he didn’t know which one of his sons Facebook accounts was in use – the one that says he is 18 or the one that says he is 23! Shocking!
But of course social media has long arms. You might not realise that YouTube is essentially a form of social media with comments and messaging. My girls watch vlogs, and I take not of what they’re watching and check on that. Just last week we had a YouTube celebrity post a video of him discovering the body of a suicide victim in Japan. He actually posted that on YouTube. Kids are watching this shit you know! That channel is banned in our house now but realistically can we police everything they could see?
What can we do?
But what can we do about it? If social media platforms increase the age requirements people will just keep faking their date of birth. Limit it to 18 and verify age with a debit or credit card? Maybe, but I really can’t see that happening this side of never. I have no solutions to offer. But if parent’s are going to allow their children on social media then you must police it, you must monitor it, you must talk to you children about it and you must ensure they are safe. If you are not prepared to do all of that then don’t let them have it – it’s that simple. And, the moment you sniff that something is wrong take it away. Don’t be afraid to do that at all.
I’m focusing on social media but of course cyber-bullying isn’t limited to that. There is text and other instant messaging apps and gaming of course. It’s everywhere and unavoidable unless you cut yourself off completely.
Teenagers, or children, and social media will forever be a talking point and one that will constantly raise issues. What’s your view? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll leave you with this infographic. It summerises what we need to get into our kids heads when it comes to social media.
Thanks for reading.