Social media and the risks


Early this year, a young girl’s prank had unimaginable consequences. An 11-year-old boy hanged himself after reading messages on Snapchat saying his 13-year-old girlfriend had died. But, that wasn’t true. It was all made up by the young girl; she was sending the messages from a friend’s account.
After reading the news of his girlfriend’s “death,” the boy posted on social media he was going to kill himself. None of the people who read his post and none of the people who knew his girlfriend was pranking him ever tried to intervene.
Another girl was found guilty of manslaughter in the highly publicized case in which prosecutors argued she was responsible for her boyfriend’s death after she encouraged him to follow through on his plan to complete suicide. At the time of his suicide he was 18 and she was 17. She texted him “You can’t think about it. You just have to do it. You said you were gonna’ do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t.” He killed himself in his truck with carbon monoxide.
These shocking incidents of teens using technology to harass and terrify their dating partners are extreme but dating abuse has gone online—and in a big way. A recent study reported that 25% of dating teens have been victimized by their partners through technology. Of those, more than half of the victims said they were also physically abused.
Other key findings were:
•Just 9% of teens of digital abuse sought help, and it was rarely from their parents or teachers.
•30% of those who experienced digital abuse also experienced sexual coercion from their partner.
•Much higher incidences of digital abuse from a dating partner were reported among LBGTQ teens compared to heterosexual teens.  
Sadly, adult abusers are increasingly using technology to harass their partners, considering the same is true among teen abusers. It’s really about one person trying to have power and control over their partner-no matter their age. When it comes to technology, controlling behaviors include:
•Using social media to monitor a partner’s whereabouts or track friendships
•Constant texting
•Coercing a partner into sending explicit selfies
•Coercing a partner for sex
•Sending degrading or threatening messages
•Demanding passwords to email and social media accounts
•Tampering with a partner’s social media account without their permission
If you think your teenager is being abused by a romantic partner, please resist the urge to swoop in and save the day. If you forbid them to see that person, it’s just more power and control. We need to teach them how to take their power back.
Some positive things you can do are:
Listen. Be available for your teen to talk to and offer support. Remind them that no one deserves to be abused and that the abuse is not their fault.
Be non-judgmental. Never accuse your teen of acting in a way that instigates abuse and don’t make your teen feel bad for continuing to love the person abusing them.
Decide on next steps together. Rather than mandating your teen stop seeing an abusive partner, discuss how he or she plans to move forward. Be available to assist with safety planning but let your teen take the lead on when and how to end the relationship.
Believe them when they tell you about violence.Teens are often reluctant to tell someone what’s going on for fear of not being believed. Don’t dismiss abuse as teen drama or angst.
Suggest peer counseling. Sometimes teens feel more comfortable talking to other teens. I often refer teens to Loveisrespect.org which has teen advocates who listen and offer advice. They can also be reached at 866-331-9474, or by texting “loveis” to 22522.
Clearly, social media is here to stay- with both negative and positive benefits. About 20% of teens say social media makes them feel more confident while 52% of teens said social media has made them better friends. Only 4% who said it has negatively affected those relationships.
On the whole, teens said that they feel that social media has a more positive than negative impact on their social and emotional lives,” said Shira Lee Katz, Common Sense Media’s director of digital media. “They believe that social media helps their friendships, makes them feel more outgoing and gives them confidence.”
Let’s remember this “For every heartbreaking case of cyberbullying, there are many stories of teens using social media for good,” said Katz.

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