At the Cincinnati Pediatric Mental Health Conference held earlier this month, Stephen J. Smith, Director of Educational Leadership with CBTS [Cincinnati Bell] delivered a workshop on social media and responsible technology. He addressed technology and the family, and the cyber-crime economy. Two of his slides really captured the visual impact of what has happened in a life-time. Using overlapping circles representing mom, dad and child, he showed a photo where the family would gather in the living room to hear radio broadcasts after dinner in the 1940’s. The 2014 circles are almost completely separated, representing mom, dad and child with a plethora of social media options and digital devices surrounding them. They are ‘tuned in and tuned out’- tuned in to the media; tuned out with each other, unlike the shared, and bonding experience of prior decades. Teens have ‘NO idea of online privacy and there is a pervasive FOMO- fear of missing out. If parents are addicted to technology too, that is not communication. Technology is supposed to help us, but it can hurt our ability to communicate with those we love most in a data driven society,’ he said.
As a result of the digital revolution, there are some ‘not so good behaviors’: “49% teens have posted something they regret online; 50% of teens posted their email address online; 30% posted their phone # online; 14% posted their home address; 45% would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching, but unfortunately only 15% of parents track their teens using location services on their mobile device” (according to McAfee Blog Central). Smith described how sexting, privacy and bullying are inter-connected and sadly, apps never forget and can go viral- as we’ve seen with the recent Snapchat debacle where illegal photos were retrieved and implicated a predator who cultivated an illicit sexual relationship with a teen.
Smith explored categories of apps- for media, texting, dating, or anonymous hook-ups. After lights are out in many households, “teens send an average of 34 texts a night”– after going to bed in a study by JFK Medical Center in Edison, NJ. Children’s cell phones should be gathered and locked up until morning advocated one psychiatric expert. Smith shared an alarming quote from a predator who said, ‘I could go on it (Kik app) now and probably within 20 minutes have videos, pictures, everything else in between off the app (Hit Me Up) because I know they’re both still active. That’s where all the child porn is coming off of.’ Another app to be concerned about is the hook-up app, ‘Tinder’ . . . where 7 percent of users are between 13 and 17. OkCupid, and YikYak chat are other potentially risky apps, and Ask.fm was implicated in the suicide of a 14 year old girl in 2013 because of social bullying. The teen chat site, ‘Tagged’ was implicated in ‘sextortion’ against teens. Another bullying (stabbing) incident in the media recently, centered around a fictional character ‘Slender Man’, connected with the Creepypasta.com and SoulEater.com web series and You Tube.
JAMA Pediatrics released recent statistics which Smith cited: 28% of teens had sent nude photos; 31% asked for them, and 57% were asked to send them. Among college students 46% sent sext messages with pictures; 64% received. This raises legal questions and implications of being charged with child porn. Many teens unwittingly wind up in a web of illicit activity and the most frightening thing is how vulnerable they are, posting birth date, interests, relationship status, real name- and up to 24% post videos according to a PEW Research report. Gone or deleted is NOT- user data escapes all the time, even from discarded old phones and digital devices supposedly wiped clean.
Another harmful social media trend is sub-tweeting, or making implications about an individual in a new form of cyberbullying. They don’t have to name you, but you’re identified by a characteristic. Smith urged parents to control the password for downloading apps, monitoring online time, using monitoring tools, and securing your child’s accounts. He cited awiredfamily.org as one source for more information. Hamilton County Prosecutor Jennifer Deering closed the workshop by talking about how Ohio has no cyber-bullying law and no sexting law. The problem of the law is that you have to prove intent to annoy, harass or embarrass and sometimes the minor who posted a video merely thought it was funny. By using examples in the court room, a child is re-victimized. Recently parents were held liable for a fictitious account created by their daughter to bully another teen. See Smithsonian link below. Pomegranate teens are not allowed to bring cell phones to the facility during treatment. (See acute and residential patient handbook-on the website, http://www.pomegranatehealthsystems.com).
[photo credit: Christy Thompson, Dreamstime]