We live in uncharted waters as parents and children. Bullying has taken a new and more terrifying form which is having deeper, long lasting and potentially lethal effects.
In a survey of hospitals in England and Wales by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) it was found that in the last year 18,778 children aged 11 to 18 were admitted to hospital for self-harm related injuries caused by things such as cutting, overdosing on pills or burning themselves. Why?
The NSPCC put the blame firmly and squarely on the shoulders of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC said:
A frightening number of children and teenagers are being driven to self-harm as a way of dealing with unresolved feelings, tensions and distress in their lives. Knowing hospital beds are full of young people crying out for help should be a real wake-up call to all those that care for the wellbeing of the younger generation. It is vital we confront the fact that an increasing number are struggling to deal with the pressures and demands of modern-day life, to such an extent they are inflicting terrible damage upon themselves.
We know this unhappiness is partly due to the constant pressure they feel, particularly from social media, to have the perfect life or attain a certain image which is often unrealistic. They tell us that the need to keep up with friends and the 24/7 nature of technology means they feel they can never escape or switch off, adding to the misery that many feel on a daily basis.
Here’s the thing. Sites like Facebook simply do not leave you alone. They are at you ALL THE TIME to come back into the fold, ‘Hey!’, they say, ‘We haven’t seen you for 10 days! You’ve missed xxxx comments… click here to be dragged back into the swamp….’
As an adult of 46 years it’s easy for me to choose to not have anything to do with Facebook. I really can’t be bothered. I had a work account which became tiresome at high speed and I have a new business where I have actively chosen NOT to have one. In short, it’s a pain in the neck. I have a Twitter account and though I only use that once in a blue moon it continually bombards me with ‘things I should know’, forever achingly pleading me to click on something. Why? Because by not doing so apparently I’ll be ‘missing out’. No thanks. At my age I know a scam when I see one.
If I was 13 though? And I thought I was missing out? I’d be there in a heartbeat. When I was 16 it was common for me to get home and call a friend or two and be on the phone for a couple of HOURS with them – we were basically gossiping. It wasn’t just me, the stories of friends whose parents either put a block on phone use or made them pay to use the phone were commonplace.
Then came social media. I remember my niece telling me in the early 2000’s in a matter of fact way that she had been ‘Fraped’ (nice word) where someone had taken over her Facebook account. This was something that happened to quite a few in her social circle. My niece was, fortunately, mentally strong enough to shrug it off. Many others won’t have been.
And now? All the kids have phones. They have cameras on them. In this one week alone I’ve read of 3 cases where teenagers have basically been tortured while their ‘friends’ film it all on their phones and then upload it to social media. Phrases such as ‘punched and kicked until their head finally hit the concrete with a sickening thud while the crowd cheered’ should bring a chill to any parents heart.
What Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and the like have done is absolutely ensure that bullying doesn’t stop at the school gates, as it did when I was a child. In the 1980’s and 1990’s home was a sanctuary. The one place where you were safe. Now they invade even that and it causes kids to sit in their bedrooms with razor blades cutting into their skin to give them relief from the emotional pain of feeling ‘trapped’. To be fair to them, I’m sure they didn’t intend this to happen. They just don’t seem to be doing very much about it. There is no differentiation between a 46 year old and a 13 year old. All must be dragged back in. In the case of Whatsapp all must have their phone numbers published and spread for all to see like some worm virus feeding to expand itself exponentially with no thought for the host. It must simply move on after converting it’s previous victim.
There is one answer.
With BBM no one needs to give out who they are. With BBM you are just a name (whatever that may be, a pseudonym if you like) and a PIN. With BBM if you don’t like what someone is saying you block them or throw them out of a BBM Group and they know nothing about you. With BBM only the people you CHOOSE to engage with are the ones in your circle. With BBM you and your kids are actually protected.
It won’t email you every day to tell you ‘what you are missing out on’.
My daughter just turned 9 so I’ve a couple of years left yet. I thank God the cycle of technology is so quick and that when she is pressurised to get some other phone than a BlackBerry (which I promise you I will defend to the death!) that she will at least have BBM and in that, unless she is personally irresponsible, she’ll be safe.
By then I pray Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter have imploded. For the sake of all our kids.