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THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
ALISON JOHNSON PSYD
As a therapist and a mother of two teenagers, I am exposed to many of the realities of an online world which has grown exponentially over the last 20 years. It’s hard to keep up with all the types of social media and online opportunities to communicate with others: there’s straight forward texting, Instant Messaging, Internet Telephony & VoIP, E-mails, IRC, SMS and wireless communication, and gaming, just to mention a few. How does anyone stay current with trends in social media? Which is the latest and most popular one to use?
Social networking (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+).
Microblogging (Twitter, Tumblr).
Photo sharing (Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest).
Video sharing (YouTube, Facebook Live, Periscope, Vimeo, TikTok).
You can actually be teased by your peer group for using “wrong” or “unpopular” social media connections!
Teasing and bullying, once restricted to the school or neighborhood, has now a vast “playing field” to intimidate and hurt children, teens and even adults alike. Bullying which uses any type of electronic means is referred to as “cyberbullying”
Nothing has changed over the years with human nature. The desire to connect and talk to others is as old as it is prevalent. However, one sometimes feels, especially as a parent of two “generation Z’s” (1995 onwards) that it has become so difficult to keep up with all the advances in social media and technology. I really am not that old! However, it is hard sometimes to relate to our children who are constantly dealing with social media and a persistent barraging of communication from peers and social groups. I thought my social life was difficult when I got to go home and didn’t have to face anyone until school the next day – it was at least an 18-hour reprieve from all the gossip, rumors, teasing and bullying at school. Not that gossip didn’t get through the phone lines. But it was simpler then. You knew who you were talking to. There was more accountability.
I talk to children, teens and young people who invariably have been the victim of cyberbullying in one form or another. The difficulties monitoring electronics makes it very hard to protect our children from such abuse. Moreover, young people are very often tormented when they don’t have access to social media and ridiculed for not knowing the latest and greatest from the rumor mill!
Learning as much as we can about the electronic world is a great defense and a way to help our children. However, we need to understand and truly empathize with our kids. The problem is very complex, and the solution is not to just control the use of electronics. Instead of dealing with our fears, we sometimes get angry and controlling with our children in an effort to protect them. But, try to imagine their world amplified by social interactions coming at them all day. Try to imagine how this effects their feelings about themselves, their desires to belong and to be included, and the stress which this places on them constantly and unremittingly.
Social media is not going away. On the contrary. It is becoming more unwieldy to manage. Our children and teens need to learn to take care of themselves in this burgeoning digital world in front of them. Ironically, social media can also provide you with many suggestions to help you understand the nature of cyberbullying, and ways to combat its impact on you and your family.
Hopefully you will take some time during Bullying Prevention Awareness Month to consider the ways in which you can help us to increase awareness of the issue, as well as help potential victims of electronic bullies.
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