(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)
Social media, both a blessing and a curse. First it was MySpace, introducing computer users to the world of sharing, watching and connecting. Now, choose your pleasure – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ — the list goes on and on. And, when used in a positive, productive way, we’re touching base and keeping up with relatives and friends, and enjoying blogs, videos and “shares” that most appeal to our lifestyle.
But, like most good things, there is a dark side. While there is no denying that the posts and comments of some “adults” can go haywire, teens, in the height of vulnerability and in a race for attention, have the potential to virtually destroy one another in a very public way. That’s why it’s important be aware, as mentors and leaders, of changing technology and the ease in which social media and smartphones could cause more harm than good. Here’s why:
It’s a great way to bring someone down
Ever feel the burn of finding your name in a slap book in your school days? That sting can last a lifetime. Now imagine those insults going “viral.” It is incredibly easy to publicly insult someone these days, whether that someone is a friend who did you wrong or it’s an individual who is simply different. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide rates among teens and young adults have nearly tripled since the 1940s and those numbers continue to rise. Cyberbullying can be prevented. It takes conversations, it takes awareness and it takes a positive example. Have a conversation with the young person in your life. Address both sides of the fence — what it feels like to be the victim and how being the bully could have a major impact on someone’s life (and their own).
What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet
We’ve all made questionable choices in our lives. After all, hindsight is always 20-20. If you’re 40-something (or even 30-something), we’re fortunate that most of those moments have not been captured in a space that cannot be destroyed. As growing young people who enjoy “sharing” many of their actions, whereabouts and relationships via their personal choice of social media, it’s important to offer a reminder that situations (and people) change and regrets come easily. Unfortunately, what is shared publicly cannot be erased. Encourage the young person in your life to think about the impact their post or photo may have on future teachers, employers, spouses or family.
It can be a dark place
Predators are everywhere. There once was a time when children played in their yards until well after dusk, walked to school with no concerns and could visually see when a stranger was approaching. While there remain the same dangers in our physical worlds, it is far more difficult to be aware of the things we cannot see. Young people must understand the dangers that come with the privilege of having a smart device and access to social media. Conversations with your pre-teen or teen should include the importance of using apps that are age-appropriate, what stranger danger means in today’s world and the fact that things aren’t always what they seem. It can be very easy to connect with an individual who claims to be from the next school district over, but incredibly scary to find out that the person is much older than he or she has shared. Remember, the uncomfortable conversations you have with your child or mentee today could be what saves them tomorrow.