Jacob Sartorius, a social media teen sensation, was recently in the news for the wrong reasons. And for the initiated, here are some facts on him. He’s a 13 year-old boy who’s got an incredible number of ‘followers’ on all his social media accounts. According to this post by Mashable, he has 3.9 million followers in photo-sharing platform Instagram, 21,000 on Vine, nearly 600,000 on Twitter and 792,000 subscribers on YouTube!
He been accused of body shaming, among other things that we wouldn’t normally associate with a 13-year-old. While the specifics of the case do not matter, the bigger issue is about teens, their cognitive development, the power of social media and parenting. When a powerful tool, such as social media, is in the hands of individuals who’ve not yet reached a state of development from where they can independently think for themselves, the onus is on the parents to make sure their childhood and innocence are protected.
There’s always a game of one-upmanship between children and their parents. The game of who’s smarter and will outsmart the other one while using the Internet. Children, here, have a distinct advantage over their parents, for they have better exposure and move in circles that are well-versed with the medium. As a result, parents always have to play catch up. This article is for those facing similar problems, trying to not be intrusive in their children’s life but try to make sure they understand the boundaries and the consequences of crossing them.
It is imperative for parents to understand the psyche of the child before jumping to conclusions or bother them with questions that might strain the the relationship. And it is equally important to understand the concept of privacy and how much it matters to the child, especially if he she is an adolescent. The addiction to usage of social media and other digital avenues is generally common among young adults and children. So don’t fret your kid is always glued to the screen. While dependency is always bad, however little or big it is, parents need to focus on providing a path that will offer their kids the path of least resistance to whatever change that needs to be brought in. Before we jump into the problem, let’s have a look at some numbers. A study by American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) said “during the last 5 years, the number of preadolescents and adolescents using such sites [social media websites] has increased dramatically. According to a recent poll, 22% of teenagers log on to their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log on to a social media site more than once a day. Seventy-five percent of teenagers now own cell phones, and 25% use them for social media, 54% use them for texting, and 24% use them for instant messaging. Thus, a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.”
So, clearly the Internet and various social media platform have the power to make or break an individual who’s in her/her teens, a time when the need for ‘identity creation’ is at its highest.
Focus on whys and not whats
As a parent, it is imperative you understand that every action is a manifestation of some inner drive. Understanding where these drives and urges arise from is the first step in tackling problems. For every action, ask yourself, “why did he/she do it?”, instead of reacting to the actions themselves. If your kid gets angry often or displays deviant behaviour, understand what has prompted him to behave that way by means by research or a specialist, instead of berating him. When you try to begin understanding the reasons, you become more tolerant and that ultimately helps you solve the problem with minimum effort. There will be cases where things will completely out of hands, so to speak, but the key remains in understanding the whys of every action. We’ll discuss that later in the post.
Need for identity, born out of peer pressure
It is that time of the human development, when the need for a sense of a clear-cut identity and approval from peers is at its highest. During these years, friends’ approval is more important that of the parents’. Here’s an article that talks about selfie addiction and what drives people to be an active participant in social networks. The underlying drive is the same, which is:
The approval, first, needs to come from parents who need to help kids feel good about themselves before they hit the adolescent stage — when parents’ approval still matters. Constant positive reinforcements will help children develop self-esteem (in a positive way) and that reduces the psychological need to seek approval from peers. A strong sense of self and the ability to discern the rights and wrongs will go a long way in reducing the negative effects of social media. Cyberbullying, online harassment and depression are, in a way, manifestations of bitter experiences in childhood, arising out of lack of approval.
Anonymity in Internet
This is where the problem starts. The online medium, in a way, gives a person a sense of anonymity that makes him/her believe that “if there’s no person in real, then there’s no consequence.” While this proves beneficial for introverted kids and teens, it also gives the more aggressive and assertive ones the power to abuse their position, given the relatively delayed or no immediate effect of consequence. Cyberbullying, in particular, is on the rise. It is the deliberate use of digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about another person. It is the most common online risk for all teens and is a peer-to-peer risk. The study says, “although online harassment is often used interchangeably with the term cyberbullying, it is actually a different entity. Current data suggest that online harassment is not as common as offline harassment, and participation in social networking sites does not put most children at risk of online harassment. On the other hand, cyberbullying is quite common, can occur to any young person online, and can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide.”
According to a study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, approximately 20% of young people reported experiencing cyberbullying in their lifetimes. Another study by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children indicates that about 1 in 10 teens have cyberbullied someone online or by text message and 16% have seen or heard of a friend who bullied others.
Children and teens, generally, are reluctant to tell their parents of their trauma or bad experience associated with bullying. It’s either in fear of a backlash, in the form of their device being snatched away from them or the fear of the lack of approval from parents. Here are some warning signals that parents should always be on the lookout for:
- Extreme mood swings
- Appears aloof or shows very little interest in the ‘real world’
- Real life relationships become less interesting
- Definite drop in marks or interest towards studies
- Refuses to go to school or avoids public places
How to address cyberbullying
If you sense there’s a definite evidence that point to your child being bullied by someone, do not confront him on the issue in a manner that might make him nervous or angry about it. Children very rarely disclose their personal problems and it is the duty of the parent to make sure that the environment is such that child is comfortable enough to talk about it. The child or adolescent should be made to realise that it the parents are firmly behind him/her on the issue and sharing of ideas and problems that are considered personal is part of growing up and will only make the relationship healthy. If the child is not cooperative, then the parents might want to think about the possibility of shifting the device or the computer to a location where everybody has equal access to.
There are also many security measures that prevent or help monitor social media usage. Login passwords and privileges can be set to a particular account which the child can make us of.
If using Windows operating system, visit this link for more information on how to use parental control features.
And for those using a Apple Mac, here’s a link that tell you how to go about setting up parental controls on your device.
This brings us to another important issue: privacy.
Privacy: never leave digital footprints
Please remember this, “what goes online, stays online but also comes back to bite you offline!” No one can be sure of what we’ve left behind in the network, and that makes it important to exercise our judgment on what we need to share and not share. It is advisable that parents keep a check on the kind of websites their kids visit online. Specific websites, inappropriate content can be filtered out using many tools available online. ‘Sexting’ is also a phenomenon that occurs among the teen population; a recent survey revealed that 20% of teens have sent or posted nude or seminude photographs or videos of themselves. What is equally alarming is that no content gets lost or can be erased off the internet easily, and that makes even more important for parents to intervene and introduce possible checks and conditions, allowing only appropriate content to pass by. The report notes, “as a result, future jobs and college acceptance may be put into jeopardy by inexperienced and rash clicks of the mouse. Indiscriminate Internet activity also can make children and teenagers easier for marketers and fraudsters to target.”
The ability of the parent to engage his/her child in a manner that doesn’t offend them and be assertive is crucial. The art of making a child comfortable sharing even the most traumatic of experiences will, in many ways, compensate for the apparent lack of ‘technical’ knowledge and know how. Or in the words of Jesse Jackson, “your children need your presence more than your presents.”