According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the majority of school-age students use some form of social media. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than half (51 percent) of US teens ages 13 to 17 say they use Facebook, but vastly more teenagers are using YouTube, Instagram or Snapchat.
Certainly, social media has its benefits, among them increasing communication speed and shortening the time needed for teachers, administrators and parents to assess a crisis or a threat.
But there are also a number of potential risks associated with using social media. One is rudeness, with many people — not just teens — opting to not say such things as “thank you,” “please” and “excuse me” at appropriate times.
“[Certainly social media has contributed to an attitude of rudeness.] People feel they have to share their opinions on everything, everywhere, at all times, even if backed up by scant knowledge,” author Danny Wallace recently told Psychology Today. “And then they have to broadcast that opinion, importantly, and in a forthright manner so that they cut through the noise. Rudeness cuts through.”
As David Meagher, author of “The A to Z of Modern Manners” recently told ABC News, “You could say people are ruder, but the nature of the technology allows people to communicate with a range of people on a range of topics and it’s really easy to have your two cents worth without having to think about it before you hit send.”
Meagher said the proliferation of social media platforms and the increasing amount of time spent on them is starting to influence face to face interactions, ABC reported.
“Sometimes those kind of habits that you get into and the way you speak on Twitter or on Facebook or Instagram can kind of creep into your day-to-day life,” he said. “I see it in the workplace all the time.”
Social media use can also contribute to psychological trauma and other disturbing social challenges. Potential risks include such things as cyberbullying and other types of conflicts, as well as the risk of students or staff members experiencing direct and widespread public ridicule over otherwise private information being widely dispersed. Such experiences, say researchers, has led to an increase in teen suicides.
“It used to be kids could escape bullying when they left school,” said Dr. Robert Pullman, a cyberbullying expert. Cyberbullying can leave a child with no escape. The bullies are at school and on the computer. It can be deadly.”
The Pasadena Unified School District has taken steps to address cyberbullying and aggressive Internet behavior with its own policies.
“To the extent possible, district schools shall focus on the prevention of bullying by establishing clear rules for student conduct and implementing strategies to promote a positive, collaborative school climate,” states the PUSD policy. “Students shall be informed, through student handbooks and other appropriate means, of district and school rules related to bullying, mechanisms available for reporting incidents or threats, and the consequences for engaging in bullying.”
Even without a computer in the home, the problem can be persistent. More than 80 percent of teens use a mobile phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying.
Other new technologies can also unintentionally aid bad behavior, with some apps and sites hiding videos and text messages and allowing incidents to go unnoticed by parents.
“In the Internet Age, the opportunity to bully others has only increased,” writes Sam Cook, a data and Internet security expert.
“Prior to the Internet, a physical presence was often needed outside of spreading rumors. Now, bullying can occur immediately, to a much larger audience, and can spread much faster. Additionally, those who choose to bully others can get more immediate gratification from likes, shares, retweets and the ‘piling on’ effect, which often occurs when others add to an already negative situation.”
A recent study by the Pew Research Center, in partnership with the American Life Project, revealed that nine out of 10 teens surveyed said they have witnessed cruel or bullying behavior on social media networks.
According to another Internet safety watchdog, DoSomething.org, nearly 43 percent of kids using social media have been bullied online, and 1-in-4 has had it happen more than once. Seventy percent of students reported seeing frequent bullying online, and 81 percent of young people thought bullying online was easier to get away with than bullying in person.
Only 1-in-10 victims of such behavior would inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse. Girls were about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
Social media also poses a risk for triggering crises, as young adults may share information, including candid pictures and feelings with one person that are later shared with a wider group of people, leaving insecure teenagers feeling depressed and alone. In the worst cases, the results can be deadly.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 unsuccessful suicide attempts.
Researchers at Oxford and Birmingham universities in England found that cyberbullying increased the risk of suicidal behavior by 2.3 times.
Professor Ann John of Swansea University Medical School, also in the United Kingdom, said prevention of cyberbullying should be included in school anti-bullying policies, “alongside broader concepts, such as digital citizenship, online peer support for victims, how an electronic bystander might appropriately intervene; and more specific interventions such as how to contact mobile phone companies and Internet service providers to block, educate, or identify users.”
Bully victims are up to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
In our house, our 10-year-old does not have a Facebook or social media account. Her computer time is monitored and she is encouraged and constantly reminded to go outside and have face to face time with her friends.
Parents should monitor the accounts of their children for cyberbullying and be aware of who is in their friend’s list and which sites they are visiting.
“Parents and teachers are the best hope in stopping aggressive behavior online,” says Dr. Pullman. “Report it to the school, contact the parents of cyberbullies. The solution has to become an adult issue for the behavior to stop.”