Unsociable Media

This week’s guest columnists are Drs. Meghan Gaddis and Mark Carreras, Family Practice residents at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette.

I’ve been thinking on how things have changed for kids in recent decades.  It seems  the days of riding bikes to friends’ houses, playing outside until the street lights come on, and having water balloon fights on hot summer days, are gone.  Parks and playgrounds in my hometown that were once packed are now empty wastelands.  Kids no longer rely on their imaginations for play, some even repulsed by the thought of going outside and getting dirty.

As adults, we’re witnesses to a generation growing up not doing the same things we did. One of the culprits that’s robbed our kids of such adventure is the advancement of technology.  Kids don’t have to deal with the disappointment of riding bikes to a friend’s house only to find him not home- they just text to communicate.  No waiting for Christmas or birthdays for a toy they’ve been yearning for- just a few clicks and Amazon brings it to the doorstep.

Of couse there’s good and bad sides to technology.  While computers have taken over a large part of children’s play, they’ve also enhanced parts of our lives.  Modern medicine relies heavily on technology and its advancements.  It was an old joke about doctors’ bad handwriting in their notes and prescriptions, which was sometimes a medical risk if a pharmacist mis-read instructions.  Now it’s all printed and legible.

A hidden risk for kids is the accessibility of a potentially dangerous side of modern tech- social media. In the United States, 77% of the population has a social media profile, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.  Social media is taking over a large part of our lives.  We’ve all enjoyed social media’s benefits.  I’ve connected with many old friends and family I haven’t seen in years.  I’ve also been able to network with other professionals with similar interests.  But just as we’re able to access a world of others, so can our kids.

Imagine letting your child wander through the worst neighborhoods in a big city, all alone.  She might be threatened by strangers, certainly would be scared, and bad things might actually happen.  Modern technology has made this nightmare more possible for kids, in social media.  Kids can be bullied by scores of schoolmates, and strangers too.  Predators may lure them into unspeakable situations.

We see lots of victims of social media in the Pediatric Emergency Department.  Besides injuries and illness, we take care of psychiatric emergencies- depression, aggression, suicide. Often the bullying that finally drove the child to the despair of contemplating killing herself started online.  Consider these statistics:

-88% of teens have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social networking site.

-15% of teens say they were a target of online cruelty.

-8% of teens got into a physical fight over something posted on social media.

–29% of sex crime relationships were initiated on social media.

These are the victims.  But any kid on social media is at risk if they have unregulated access.  More stats: 

-67% of teens know how to hide their online activity from parents.

-22% of teens log on to social media site more than 10 times per day.

-85% of parents with teens report that their child has a social networking profile

-29% have been stalked or contacted by a stranger

The best way to avoid this is to closely monitor your child’s online activity.  Frequently talk to them about what they’re seeing, and with whom they’re communicating.  Ask them if they’re being bullied, or recieving messages from stangers.  Get them used to talking openly about it, and see for yourself what they’re reading and writing.

Some teens argue that this is an invasion of their privacy, and fight monitoring tooth-and-nail.  And as we just stated, most teens know how to hide their activity.  The best way to avoid this is to early in their lives, before they’re teens, let them know that there’s no such thing as online privacy.  Explain to them this contract: from the first day they get access to a screen, if you’re paying for the access, you get to see it all.  And just like you wouldn’t let them wander through the city lost and alone, you wouldn’t leave them all alone in the online jungle either.


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