Editor’s Note: This post is a contribution by a teenage guest writer Chinaza Anusionwu. I figured that as a teen she would do justice to the topic more than I could. She didn’t disappoint. I hope you show it to all the young people in your life so that they will be more careful with what information they put online.
Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people or companies to create, share, or exchange information, career interests, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks. However, there are subtle, everyday dangers of social media that are either unknown, being ignored, or minimized. Teens need to be educated and appropriate boundaries should be set for them to feel safe. The dangers of social media for teens include:
1. Emotional Implications: Psychological experts warn that social media sites can have emotional implications for kids who are already suffering from low self-esteem or confidence. Such children may judge their success by the number of friends they have on Facebook or if they are included in a specific group of people. This may lead to further diminishing of their confidence
2.Lack of Interpersonal Skills: Children spending too much time online may consider a virtual relation a substitute for a real one. By spending more time online they often ignore the importance and the appropriate behavior related to face-to-face contact. Hence, the set of interpersonal skills that are necessary for the success in the real life may not develop properly
3.Social Media Makes Self-Harm Worse for Teens: Despite efforts of social media sites to curb the amount of disturbing material their users post online, images of self-harm, like “cutting,” continue to surface on sites like Instagram and Tumblr. Teen posting images of disturbing behavior online is not new. Pictures of dangerously thin people, usually girls, appear as “thinspiration,” motivating people with bulimia or anorexia to avoid treatment. Other images involve dangerous trends: In April, teens posted pictures of themselves trying the “Kylie Jenner Challenge,” sucking their lips inside a glass to give them an inflated look like the reality star. The glass can break under the pressure, requiring stitches; the suction can create severe bruising and tissue damage. Teens have posted videos of the “Cinnamon Challenge,” where they swallow a spoonful of ground cinnamon in under 60 seconds without drinking anything – which can be dangerous to their lungs.
4.Sexting: Sexting is sending and receiving sexually explicit messages, primarily between mobile phones. The Pew Research Center commissioned a study on sexting, which divides the practice into three types: exchange of images solely between two romantic partners, exchanges between partners that are shared with others outside the relationship and exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where at least one person hopes to be from behind their bedroom doors. More than 1 out of every 10 teenagers has sent a nude or semi-nude picture of themselves to others online – a “digital tattoo” that could haunt them for the rest of their lives. Hope Witsell A 13-year-old who grew up in Sundance, Florida, forwarded a nude photo of herself to a boy she liked. That image found its way to other students, resulting in name calling, cyberbullying and Hope’s suicide.
5.Cyberbulling: “Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. Victimization of young people online has received an increasing level of scrutiny, particularly after a series of high-profile suicides of teenagers who were reportedly bullied on various social networks. In 2013, for example, a spate of suicides was linked to the social network Ask.fm, where users can ask each other questions anonymously. The deaths of teens who had been subject to abuse on the site prompted Ask.fm (which was acquired by Ask.com in 2014) to launch new safety efforts. Twitter, likewise, announced plans in April to filter out abusive tweets and suspend bullying users.
Here are some real life incidents: Jessica Logan a petite, blond-haired, blue-eyed Ohio high school senior committed suicide after a nude photo of herself she sent to her boyfriend was distributed around the school. Sarah Lynn Butler. A seventh grader from Hardy, Arkansas, voted Queen for her Fall Festival committed suicide after she was teased at school, and later on received bullying messages on her MySpace page. Hannah Smith a 14-year-old from Leicestershire, England hanged herself in her bedroom following taunts on the Ask.fm social networking site. Phoebe Prince. A 15-year-old Irish immigrant from Massachusetts hanged herself two days before the winter cotillion dance at her school, because she was cyberbullied.
6.Social Media Use in Teens is Linked to Poor Sleep and Anxiety: The pressure to be available 24/7 on social media may lead to poorer sleep quality as well as an increased risk of depression and anxiety in teens, according to a new study. In the study, researchers asked 467 teenagers ages 11 to 17 about their use of social media during the day and at night. In other tests, they examined the teens’ sleep quality, self-esteem, anxiety and depression. They also looked at whether and to what extent the kids felt the pressure to be available on social media all the time. The researchers found that using social media at any point was significantly related to decreased sleep quality, lower self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression levels in the study participants.
7.Online predators: Internet-facilitated sex crimes against minors involve deceit and begin with adults communicating with children over the Internet with the goal of coercing them into illegal sexual activity. Sometimes the sexual abuse happens face to face. Chat rooms, instant messaging, Internet forums, social networking sites, cell phones, and even video game consoles have all attracted online predators.
In 2002, 13-year old Kacie Renee Woody met David Fuller in a Christian chat room. Fuller, age 47, told Kacie that he was 18. They courted for a bit, but Kacie fell in love with another boy and broke up with Dave. One night when Kacie was home alone in her Greenbrier, Arkansas home, Fuller had come into her house, covered her face with a choloroform-soaked rag, and dragged her into a minivan. Fuller drove from California to Arkansas and stalked Kacie before the abduction. He knew when she got home from school, when her father left for work, and when she would be at home alone. Kacie’s friends were worried about Kacie giving out information freely to people that she had met on the Internet and even spoke to a counselor at school about their concern. It was too late in Kacie’s situation. Fuller took Kacie to a storage unit, raped and killed her, before turning a gun on himself.
8.Cyber-stalking: Stalking is defined as the obsessive monitoring or attention towards the victim that may harass him or her. Cyber-stalking can be done in many different ways using social media. Sometimes, an ex-boyfriend or spouse may get angry at the breakup of a relationship and use social media to pursue the victim. In another case, a relationship that was developed online gets sour and the personal information shared can be used by the stalker. Or, someone may also fall victim to a random cyber stalking attack.
Kristen’s story is just one of the many cyber stalking stories that have recently made the news. It seemed like an innocent Facebook message from a former college classmate, but one that left Kristen Pratt fearing for her life for several months. She is in her early 20s, and like other women her age, she is active on social networks. Patrick Macchione made contact with her for the first time in 2009, several years after they were classmates at the University of Central Florida. She thought he was just someone who was trying to catch up; only to find out later that he would be stalking her online through emails, texts, and online videos. Macchione was able to contact her even after she changed her phone number. He bombarded her with messages on her Facebook and Twitter account. He also uploaded 27 YouTube videos all directed to her, telling her he loved her, which later on turned into threats after she ignored him. Pratt filed an injunction against Macchione but he continued to harass her online. Although Macchione was arrested and jailed for four years, Kristen continues to live in fear and believes that she may no longer get rid of this fear for the rest of her life.
9.Identity theft: Identity theft is the deliberate use of someone else’s identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person’s name and perhaps to the other person’s disadvantage or loss. The person whose identity has been assumed may suffer adverse consequences if they are held responsible for the perpetrator’s actions. Identity theft occurs when someone uses another’s personally identifying information, like their name, identifying number, or credit card number, without their permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
One of the big problems with social media sites is that children often do not fully read or understand the privacy settings of their accounts. They are unaware of the risks of disclosing unnecessary personal information. According to a recent survey, 20% of the youth think it to be perfectly safe to post their personal information and photos online. Such kids may easily become victim of identity theft.
10. Explicit Or Violent Imagery: Spending a lot of time on social media sites like Facebook can be dangerous, as often as a result of political events around the world, explicit and violent imagery get shown on the discussion threads. Often it is very difficult to moderate such content due to its viral nature. This may have a negative effect on the minds of children, leading them to have a sadistic and defeatist view of the world.