Recent cyberbullying activity inspired by a summer movie reminds us all that we need to be paying close attention to what our kids are doing on social media.
I learned of this “new” trend (and I’ll argue the “new” part of this in a moment), when a friend told me that her sister had just attended the wake of a 14 year-old girl who committed suicide, presumably because she was being harassed online. The parents of this young girl still don’t know exactly what led their daughter to suicide. In a news story about the tragedy, there was mention of a nude picture the girl may have sent to a boy, and references to a trend on social media inspired by the horror/thriller film The Purge.
Apparently the premise of the move The Purge and the sequel (The Purge: Anarchy released on July 18th) is that anything goes for one night – all crimes are without consequences. The cult-like following of this movie has sparked the creation of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages dedicated to the idea that “anything goes” and “all crimes are legal.” Pages and sites are cropping up across the internet encouraging users to take a ‘no consequences’ approach to what they post on social media for a 12-hour period. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in sites dedicated to posts with sexually explicit, hurtful content and a practice referred to as “revenge porn.”
What is “revenge porn”? Well, apparently a common scenario goes like this. At one time a foolish youngster takes a compromising selfie and sends it to a trusted person…a current boyfriend or girlfriend, perhaps, with the expectation that the recipient will keep the picture private. Well, when that relationship falls apart for whatever reason or they are enticed to post anything they want online with “no consequences”, the recipient of the picture decides to post it on social media for all to see. Nude pictures of underage girls are cropping up all over sites in posts with hashtags including the word “Purge”…and there most certainly are consequences.
Here’s a link to a story about a recent incident in Kansas City:
“Purge: Anarchy” movie sparks disturbing online “purges”
So let’s talk about this being a “new” trend. I’ll agree that the idea of using the premise of the movie The Purge as inspiration for sharing photos like this online may be “new,” but the concern that someone may do something malicious with a nude or explicit photo you sent them in a weak moment is certainly NOT new. This is one of the biggest things I’m trying to get across to my kids. Anything they post, share or send across the internet could be seen by anyone at any time. Why is this so hard for kids to grasp? And, why aren’t parents talking to their kids about the risks of doing this?
While it’s completely beyond me why anyone would risk sending anyone else an explicit photo of themselves over the internet — apparently it’s done all the time by America’s naïve youth. In fact, it is estimated that up to 18% of teens have sent inappropriate pictures across the internet.
When my friend told me about this local girl’s suicide, she said she took a look at the girl’s Twitter page and said evidence of her depression was all right there to see in a series of dark messages she had posted recently, things like:
“I want to sleep forever”
“I’m tired of pretending to be okay”
“I will never be good enough for anyone.”
What my friend found so difficult to comprehend was that no one spoke up about it. Her parents did not know she was in a state beyond normal teenage moodiness, and no one in her life took the time to clue anyone in who might have been able to help her. And, according to a news story I just read, no one has come forward with any information about what may have driven this young girl to suicide. The local kids are tweeting about it, but only saying things like:
“We can’t talk about it.”
“Ummm no, I can’t speak about what happened sorry bye.”
“I can’t let information out.”
Are you kidding me? What are we teaching our kids?
There is speculation that this girl’s death is somehow related to a nude picture she may have sent to a boy and/or a page that someone created online “bashing” her, but the parents still don’t know what is true and what isn’t. It is truly shocking to me that no one is willing to come forward with information about what happened to this poor girl. The parents readily admit that they did not keep an eye on their daughter’s social media usage and did not know her account passwords.
The mother was quoted as saying “I feel helpless. As a parent, I feel I didn’t protect her enough from this stuff.”
This tragic story reminds me of the one that inspired me to start this blog. I attended a presentation at a local high school on the topic of kids and technology. The presenter (a former law enforcement official) projected the picture of an adorable 13 year-old boy and told the tale of how he was harassed online by his peers and eventually committed suicide. The boy’s devastated mother said to them “If only I had looked at his phone.”
The lesson here is not new. Pay attention to what your kids are doing online. Pick up their devices and see who they are talking to and what sort of things are they posting. You have a right to know and it’s your job to protect them. Social media isn’t going away. Oh how I have wished that it was all a passing fad, but it just seems to be gaining popularity with new ways for kids to harass each other cropping up daily.
I’m pretty shaken up by this story. This time, it’s not some remote national story – but a tragic event that happened in the town next to mine. So, I urge you all to take the time to monitor what your kids are dong online. Take your blinders off and accept the fact that there is a very dark side to social media, and if your kids are on it, you need to know what they are doing. It might even save their life.