This past month I have had a disturbing re-introduction to Social Networking, in particular, Askfm. If you have Tweenage (9-14yrs) or teenage children and are thinking this post is about a new radio station, then read on.
As a past year 7 teacher, I used to pride myself on ‘being in touch‘ with my students and being able to relate to what was happening in their worlds. Being in my early twenties when I graduated, it was not that long before that I too had been an insecure teen trying to iron out my identity in the back row of a Business Maths lesson (yeah I know…Business Maths, I was never going to be an accountant with that under my belt).
Well it seems the generation gap has reared its ugly head, because I have crossed over from being a hip, happening twenty something, into a daggy, thirty something teacher trying to keep up with a generation who are fast slipping away from us.Times have changed and it is now not what we do see happening that we should be worried about…it is what we are not seeing that is the cause for concern.
Askfm is a relatively new social networking site that operates in an anonymous Q & A format. Users sign up for an account and are then open to receiving questions from anonymous users. The questions and answers are then publicly published on the page for all to see. After a chat with my 16 year old sister in law, I thought I’d go and have a look at what the hype was about.
After browsing through several ‘open’ accounts I had to get off. I was left with a sick feeling in my stomach. I felt sad, I felt angry and I felt helpless. Page after page of comments intentionally posted by so called ‘friends’ who in the safety of anonymity were able to strip away at the insecurities of their most vulnerable school mates. The questions would begin quite innocently, What is your favourite food? Do you prefer coffee or tea? Dogs or cats? and then dip to take a seedy undertone, with personal attacks on sexual status, weight and appearance. The insults, the attacks, the bullying is published publicly for the world to see. I wanted to find the children, shake them for being so silly and then hug them. Why would they sign up and subject themselves to this? What was it that kept them answering these humiliating questions? Why didn’t they block these users? The answer lies deep within their impressionable teen minds. I once asked a group of my Year Seven’s why they stayed on Facebook or MSN if they had been picked on. One group told me ‘If we aren’t on there, it’s like we don’t exist’. This broke my heart.
Earlier this year British teen Joshua Unsworth took his own life after becoming the centre of a bullying campaign played out publicly on the social networking site.This is not a new phenomenon. Facebook is now in its seventh public year and has also been blamed for inciting violence, hatred and facilitating bullies.
But Is social networking to blame for these deaths or for the relentless bullying? Or would these events have occurred without a computer? There are some that will say that bullying has always been a large part of our society, it is after all as old as the hills. Take our friend Jesus for example…I’m sure many more would have attended the Crucifixion if Pontius Pilate had been able to take advantage of the ‘Create an event’ feature on Facebook. Some suggest it is only now being taken seriously because we have the published manuscripts as proof of what is being played out in our playgrounds. Surely we as a society should be taking accountability for the huge slip in moral education that is making it ‘okay’ for us to pick others to pieces, to hound others until they crack.
When faced with cyber bullying, Many parents ask ‘What can I do?’ Firstly you’ve got to find a window into their worlds. This window is now open for all of the world to see…the internet. Get online and sign yourself up for every social networking site you can find. Despite many having security features where profiles can be private, they are still kids, which means you can bet they didn’t listen to the constant warnings about concealing their personal details. Many pages are still ‘open’. You’d be surprised at what you can find out, if not from your own child’s pages, then at least those of their friends. The predators are having a field day!
Secondly, try to stay at least one step behind them. Lets face it, we will never get ahead of them when it comes to technology. Lets at least try to stay within reach, not fall ten steps behind. It is a parents responsibility to find out what’s going on. Snoop away! You’ll be hated for a while, but you’re not trying to make a friend. You are trying to keep your children safe. You may just find that piece of information that saves their life.
Don’t become ‘that’ parent who didn’t know what was happening.
Here is the Link to the Daily Mail Article, a real eye opener.