How do you work through social media issues with young people?
In Australia we had another teenage suicide linked to cyberbullying in recent weeks, although, as people working in the field of mental health have pointed out, there might be many factors leading to a decision by a young person to end their life, even if cyber bullying has contributed to this fateful decision. One suicide is one too many for me.
How are we to approach the comments on social media from people trying to impress, trying to shock, sometimes deliberately writing hurtful comments?Not that long ago I decided to stand up for my values and beliefs and challenge a young adult man I knew to think more carefully before he posted some fairly aggressive, cruelly judgmental material. A couple of his friends proceeded to launch aggressive and judgmental attacks on me and, when I questioned one of them, discovered that he had not even read my comment. Then another young woman entered the conversation and decided to make fun of me as well, at which point I pressed the ‘delete’ button and also blocked a ‘friend’.
The mistake I made was probably writing something on the post instead of messaging the young man and keeping our conversation off the public platform. I learnt an important social media lesson from that experience.
What concerns me with the antisocial social media behaviour of teenagers is that, while their brains are still developing, they might immediately become involved in an emotional outburst, which might well be normal in such circumstances, and that can spiral into all sorts of negative consequences.
And, if it becomes a personal, hurtful attack, will that teenager seek direction and guidance from someone they trust or will they bottle up their thoughts and feelings? If the latter, what will be the consequences of such a decision?
The more we talk about the responsible use of social media, the better.
One consequence of openly talking about social media with young people, which I have seen on a number of occasions now, is how one responsible student will enter a Facebook discussion, for example, and remind peers the conversation is getting out of hand and to put an end to it. Failing this, the student has sought assistance from an adult he or she trusts.
Much of the messaging between teenagers takes place out of school hours, yet schools are inevitably dragged into any spats and are then blamed by parents if nothing is done.
It is critically important for parents not to shirk their responsibilities and ‘parent’ their own children, talking to them about the responsible use of social media and the consequences of poor choices. And, through such conversations, there is a greater possibility that negative, antisocial behaviour can be nipped in the bud before it takes on the symptoms of bullying.
Another young man I know posted his thoughts about his relationship with his girlfriend on Facebook. Another student alerted me to this. I sent the boy a private message suggesting that personal comments, such as he had posted, was not the way to grow and develop a meaningful relationship. He was good enough to acknowledge that he had erred and quickly removed the original message.
Leading neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield, made an interesting observation in her book, which some see as a little controversial, Mind Change – How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains: ‘Time spent using technology is time spent away from the real world and real people. It is through seeing others, or hearing their voice, that we can try to understand how they feel. Too much time focused on the two-dimensional world of social networks may … be affecting young people’s ability to empathise with others, form meaningful bonds and ultimately get the best of their relationships.’
As volunteer adult mentors, parents, teachers, youth workers and coaches, we can weave the responsible use of social media into our conversations with teenagers in a non-judgmental, positive way. Chat about leaving mobile phones in another room overnight, not becoming embroiled in negative online discussions, never posting online when they are in a foul mood, thinking about how they would feel receiving a negative message, never sharing a photograph of someone else without their permission, being a positive person of influence with regard to the use of social media and so much more.
What suggestions would you offer volunteer adult mentors to share with their mentees?
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.