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Social Media Poses Real Cyber Dangers to Children

cyberbullying has increased in frequency

(Weerapat Kiatdumrong/Dreamstime)

By Monday, 28 January 2019 09:33 AM Current | Bio | Archive

As discussed more extensively in my just-released book "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity," the rise of social media use by children (and yes, adults too) poses very antisocial risks and dangers.

Sure, the many positive benefits afforded by a digitally-connected "communication democracy" are indisputable. Like being able to stay in close touch with friends, share experiences and information, and exchange jokes and gossip within networks of similarly-interested contacts.

Yet underlying these social platforms also lurk uninvited eavesdroppers, cyberbullies —even sexual predators.

Gone are the days when privacy meant locking your front door.

Thanks to the Internet, complete strangers from across the globe may now learn embarrassingly personal or predatory things about you and your children from unguarded Facebook postings. Thoughtless sharing of inappropriate comments, private pictures, and other personal blunders refuse to either die or recognize geographical boundaries.

Such vulnerability is a particularly sensitive issue for minors.

Despite widespread attempts by schools, parents, and concerned private and public organizations to raise their awareness, some children continue to behave recklessly online.

Consequently, cyberbullying has become increasingly common, especially among teenagers. Emotionally-harmful behaviors include posting online rumors, threats, sexual remarks, a victim’s personal information, unflattering recorded impersonations, body-shaming statements and images, and pejorative labels.

Unlike traditional bullying, victims often don’t know the identity of the bullies, or why they are being targeted. This can have wide-reaching consequences because the content can be easily spread and shared among many people to remain accessible long after the initial incident. Also, since the practice often operates using stealth, victims may have no way to avoid targeting or escape.

Cyberbullying is easily accomplished.

In some cases it can involve continuing to send emails or text messages harassing someone who has said they want no further contact with the sender; or it can entail repeated actions aimed at frightening and humiliating the victim.

The impacts are inherently tragic. A 2014 study by the American Pew Research Center reported that bullying victims are between two and nine times more likely to consider suicide.

Young people who suffer from low self-esteem, along with others with mental disorders, are particularly susceptible to extreme levels of potentially suicidal anxiety and emotional trauma. This is largely because they are less able to filter out and separate nasty things people say about them from healthy realities.

Excessive time spent online also often distracts interest and attention away from confidence-building group interactions that build self-respect and self-reliance.

San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, wrote in a 2017 article in The Atlantic, that teens who use electronic devices more hours a day are becoming increasingly anxious, depressed, and thinking about suicide. She argues that this is because the so-called "smartphone generation" is likely to have less face-to-face interaction with friends which is crucial to mental health and development of social skills.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2017 that whereas family instability and substance use are important contributors to teen suicides, the role of cyberbullying is becoming an ever-more prominent factor.

Suicide rates for teenage girls are growing at a particularly fast rate.

Youthful cyberbullies are typically too immature to understand or have sufficient empathy to care about the emotional and psychological impacts of their activities which they may regard as merely funny pranks. Most are likely also to be unaware that their actions may have serious legal consequences. Bullying that is sexual in nature or involving sexting can lead to conviction as a registered sex offender.

Adolescents and teens make themselves vulnerable to cyberbullies and sexual predators by a naïve and dangerous desire to share intimate selfie images and texts. Sadly, many adults are no smarter

As Alex Lickerman, M.D., observed in a 2010 Psychology Today.com article, people of all ages generally have a penchant for saying things in the electronic world they’d never say to people in person because the person to whom they’re saying it isn’t physically present to display their emotional reaction.

Lickerman writes, "It’s as if the part of our nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralyzed or removed when we’re communicating electronically, as if we’re drunk and don’t realize or don’t care that our words are hurting others."

Dr. Lickerman urges us to remember that there are vast differences between the kinds of social interactions we may enjoy online versus those with people in the real world. He reminds us: "Perhaps we just don’t think such messages have the same power to harm as when we say them in person. Perhaps in the heat of the moment without another’s physical presence to hold us back, we just don’t care. Whatever the reason, it’s clearly far easier for us to be meaner to one another online."

As Lickerman concludes, let’s try even harder to be nice.

Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of several books, including "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful” (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), and "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." To read more of his reports Click Here Now.

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Thanks to the Internet, complete strangers from across the globe may now learn embarrassingly personal or predatory things about you and your children.
bullying, cdc, communication, democracy
Monday, 28 January 2019 09:33 AM
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