Teens, tweens and social networking
Any digital medium which allows social interaction may be considered social media. For example, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Skype. It is common for teenagers to spend several hours on social media. Parents can be oblivious to this, but it is important to be aware of these activities as they sometimes create an inappropriate or unhealthy environment.
Parents need to monitor closely for cyber bullying, sexting and exposure to inappropriate content. In a recent survey in the United States, some teens were asked to comment on social networking.
Here are some of the responses: "I'm not sure that parents realise how much it affects our self-image and confidence"; "Sometimes I feel like I am losing control"; and "My friendships are really affected by social networking". If you doubt the influence and impact such media can have on our children, these comments should send us a clear message.
So what are some of the risks associated with social networks?
This may sound like a made-up American term for American kids, but this is quite prevalent right here in Jamaica. Cyber bullying is when a child is tormented, harassed or embarrassed by another child through social media. This can have a negative impact, resulting in depression, anxiety, severe isolation and even suicide.
Sending sexually explicit messages via social media gave reason for this new word to be added to the dictionary. Have you ever seen a teenager engulfed in sending text messages (or BBM) and wondered what the subject of discussion might be? When you receive a pornographic broadcast or video, do you wonder if this will ever reach your teen's cellphone?
Whether it is inappropriate commercial advertising or contact with adults with harmful intentions, social media are a setting for predators to prey on innocent minds. Our children are influenced by the world around them, and social media are now a big part of that world. They can be brainwashed on what is beautiful, what to wear, how to form relationships and who to form such relationships with. The adage that it takes a village to raise a child had good intentions, but today social media are probably a big part of that village.
So what do we do? Do we ban them from all social media? A resounding 'no' has to be our answer. Social media are here to stay, so let's not get left behind. Here are some tips to reduce these risks and reap the benefits of social media:
1. Start young. Simple discussions about the appropriate use of technology need to begin early.
2. Don't get left behind. Get on Facebook and make sure your children are your 'friends'.
3. Supervise all online activities. If you can't, get an expert to block adult content.
4. Look for warning signs. Spending all day texting or on the computer should raise suspicion.
5. Encourage positive usage and interactions (group homework, idea sharing).
6. Create positive distractions. Recommend sites with interesting online activities.
Dr Lisa N C Franklin-Banton is the president of the Paediatric Association of Jamaica; email: firstname.lastname@example.org