The group, ‘Parents Encouraging Responsible Choices’ held a Social Media Q & A in the Dublin Rec Center May 8th. Dublin Schools was represented by Dublin Jerome HS Guidance Counselors Jen Rodgers and Dublin Counselor, Suzanne, plus Dublin City Police Officers Jeff Hall, and Chuck Rudy who also serve as School Resource Officers. There were about 18-20 parents. The session went from 9:30 until 11:00 am.
There are several angles to the social media scene. “If you knew there was going to be a party with alcohol, sex, drugs, nudity and no parents or supervision, that’s what social media sites can become,” explained Officer Hall. One of the current media issues is under the Ask toolbar, ‘Dublin Confessions’, known as a ‘crush’ site. There are Confessions sites for Miami, Bexley, UA, Hilliard and more- but it’s an international phenomenon. Essentially it’s a stream of gossip, akin to ‘bathroom wall quality graffiti’ except that it includes names, phone numbers, addresses and personal information made public, true or not, embarrassing and vulgar, accessible to everybody. Allegations and gossip are common. It’s not necessarily criminal, but quite damaging. [In an environment where bullying can lead to suicidal and homicidal ideation in extreme cases, it’s something parents probably need to be aware of.]
“There is little recourse for crass behavior. As you begin to monitor your teens, you’ll find it’s really hard. You’re going to be disappointed,” Hall added. The Columbus Dispatch Metro and State section had an article on the front page under ‘online ethics’ which read ‘Noxious ‘crush’ sites plague area high schools’ by Collin Binkley, Sunday, May 12th. The confessions site is run out of Latvia. A 15 year old boy in Britain hanged himself last month after taking abuse on the site, ask.fm. It runs on the Twitter platform. There are 1500 followers of the Dublin site. Bexley High has been accused of being fascist in its strict disciplinary response if poster perpetrators are caught.
The officers also explained Twitter and Facebook basics: the criminal dangers, the social dangers, and how to protect your child. Check their best friend’s wall to find out what your kid is up to, and know your kids passwords they advised. Explain to them who and what ‘friends’ are. Its ‘cool’ to have thousands of followers, but most are not really your friend. It is not about one’s coolness based on number of followers. Personal information should NEVER be divulged, but location software can even pinpoint the house, and the likely location of a teen’s bedroom. Also know their apps. Instagram, a legitimate photo-sharing site allows comments and likes. Kids use aliases frequently. Officer Rudy has seen photos of kids using drugs, driving 110mph, and engaging in other risky behavior to look cool. They feel invincible, and they put it all out there.
Officer Hall’s Facebook handout said most teens ‘friend’ people they don’t personally know and provide personal information to clever persons with malicious intent. Anything put on the ‘wall’ is visible to so- called ‘friends’.’ We’ve seen what happened in the Steubenville rape trial that the State Attorney General is now investigating. In working with middle school students, he explained that knowing social media allows us to ‘see the world ‘our kids’ are really engaged in’.
There were lots of parental tips. One issue is when parents leave for the weekend with the teen home alone, in a large ‘wired’ home with no supervision and access to alcohol, medication etc. And of course, police are frequently called as crowd control occasionally becomes the tip off of an under-age party gone viral.
One new social media app is KiK- which supports text messaging. You can’t retrieve the message; it captures a moment in time and KiK messages are deleted on logout. A parent would never know what the darlings are up to. However, a ‘Nanny program’ (spyware) can track passwords and texts/users based on clicks. The rule for many sites- like Facebook is that you have to be 13, but that’s not a law. Another new site is Snapchat, a photo and video sharing site that self- deletes in a pre-set time, like 10 seconds. Though the rules say no drug or sex references, it’s not really policed and the ability to have fast shots show up and then disappear is too enticing for young teens. The officer noted you can screen shot it or a friend can take a picture of it from their cell phone- and then share it that way. So, its clearly not ‘fool’ proof.
There are district policies for wireless technology. It can be an asset to take pictures of assignments, use apps to do research and homework. It’s often a necessity and helps engage teens. Kids are addicted to their phones. Counselors have been brought in to address what’s not appropriate, but it’s a rapidly evolving scene. Kids in some schools have to leave phones in their lockers, or phones must remain in their pocket, but it’s amazing how often they find ways to use the phones anyway (parents too).
‘Look at your phone bill; 100 texts during the school day is a clue. Kids who struggle the most, want boundaries. Parents and schools need to be consistent, but often don’t care or don’t know how to monitor,” said Hall. “Know which apps your kids use and stay on top of it; know their passwords. Make sure their cell phone is left in parents room by 9:30pm, on the charger until morning. When cell phone use becomes a huge imbalance, a parent needs to set boundaries on usage. Teach kids that there is a difference between mean comments and bullying,” he added. Note when, how often, create documentation if you suspect bullying. Hall continued, “Educate your child not to engage in conversation with the offending party, to feed the situation. Kids are always touching each other and saying rude things. But comments are not appropriate when nudity or vulgar language are involved. Kids fear social isolation and therefore are unwilling to exclude idiots because they want to have lots of ‘friends’.”
“Staying abreast of social media trends is important for Pomegranate because we treat teens in residential and acute who ‘live that life’, have been singled out, bullied and/or otherwise overwhelmed by what’s out there. The criminal aspect also haunts many with sexual trafficking, predatory behavior inflicted on underage kids, and one’s entire future at stake,” says Cory, a therapist at Pomegranate Health Systems. ‘Words, images, videos live forever in the online world,’ officer Rudy said, and concluded, ‘Self-control and common sense are severely lacking in the teen online community’. As neurological studies confirm, teen brains aren’t fully developed until 24 . . . or later. The vulnerability piece is definitely a big concern.
[Photo credit: author, Pomegranate Health Systems]