Teen use of social media growing

Teens could be at risk on some sites online

PARKERSBURG – As more and more of the Baby Boomer generation get into Facebook, experts say teens are moving onto other forms of social media, and there are a lot of them out there.

While there can be positives to social media use, some kids could be at risk.

Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Kik, Wanelo, Snapchat, Vine, are just a few of the popular social media sites out there that teens are using. Some of the sites allow posting of images, videos, some are blogging platforms, some are personal SmartPhone messaging systems, others allow teens to send and receive anonymous texts, video, drawings, or create videos.

Many parents, caregivers have never even heard of these sites, much less know whether their teens are using them or not.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ recently released findings from a comprehensive study on the impact social media has on kids and families, found while there are some benefits to kids using sites like Facebook, including access to information, there can also be serious downsides to online sharing including a new phenomenon which experts are calling facebook depression.

According to the AAP’s Clinical Report on the “Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families,” researchers have proposed a new phenomenon called “Facebook depression, defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression. Acceptance by and contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents.”

Nancy R. Creighton, Children’s Outreach Liaison, Westbrook Health Services advised parents and caregivers can best protect their children by learning about the sites themselves.

“Many people are familiar with the ins and outs of Facebook given it’s overwhelming presence in our technological lives. However, kids don’t use just one means of electronic communication. Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat among others are all growing in popularity with younger users. If we fail to keep up with what our kids are using, it affects our ability to guide them towards positive interaction,” Creighton said.

Cyber bullying has received nationwide attention.

“This can be a challenge for kids who are targets of cruelty at school, as those who are harassing the student can now act against them readily outside of school. Additionally, harassing messages can be spread to wider audiences faster. The level of cruelty may even be increased as those harassing others may feel emboldened by a perceived reduction of consequences. The overall effect on targeted students tends to be similar to those who are bullied through more traditional methods though: higher rates of anxiety and of depression, increased absenteeism, declining performance in school, unexplained physical ailments,” Creighton said.

Creighton suggested parents keep an open dialogue when talking to kids about social media and electronic communication.

“Let them know you are curious about how they use different programs and ask if they know of anyone who has had problems with other users. Express concerns you may have, such as the ability to share information with unintended audiences. Work together to set appropriate guidelines for use. Remember, though we do hear horrific incidence of bullying and harassment via electronic methodology the majority of users are able to use these resources in appropriate and positive ways,” Creighton said.

Parents and kids also need to keep in mind they don’t know who is out there reading posts and looking at videos and photos.

Sgt. Greg Collins, spokesman for the Parkersburg Police Department, offered these tips to keep kids using the social medial sites safe:

  • Don’t post your full name, Social Security number, address or phone number.
  • Consider not posting your photo.
  • Flirting with strangers online could have serious consequences. Predators are very good at what they do.
  • Never meet a new online friend in person and tell an adult about the request.
  • Keep the computer in a common area of your home. Parents should constantly be monitoring what their children are

doing on the computer.

  • Talk to your kids about sexting (the sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone) and the emotional pain and damage to a child’s reputation it can cause.
  • Talk to your kids about cyber bullying and the damage it can cause in addition to possible criminal charges.

Keep in mind police agencies do monitor media sites. Collins noted over the past couple of years the PPD has started using social media sites to help solve crimes and identify suspects. In March 2012, Parkersburg Police Chief Joe Martin assigned an officer to investigate Internet crimes on a full-time basis.

Detective Travis Wolfe is officially part of two task forces, the West Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and the West Virginia Cyber Crimes Task Force, which is established and funded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Detective Wolfe is working with the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency; West Virginia University, Marshall University, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies to protect the children.

“Children need to know that many people will be looking at their social networks. Parents, teachers, the police, a college you might want to apply to and even potential employers. It’s the way the world operates now. It’s a tough message to get across to kids because of their lack of maturity and their inability to look that far ahead in their life,” Collins said.

In 1986, the Parkersburg Police Department answered 20, 473 calls, with that number climbing to 44,780 calls in 2011.

“The number of officers has remained between 63 and 65 throughout this period, creating a tremendous challenge. The evolution of crime and technology has also created the need for more specialized assignments such as the one held by Detective Wolfe, further stretching the demands placed upon our department. However, the priority given to protecting our children must be at the highest level, with zero tolerance for those who prey on them. We, as a department, will continue to learn the newest techniques and purchase the most updated equipment that will help us protect our kids,” Collins said.

According to a report released in May 2013 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, teens share a wide range of information about themselves on social media sites including posting photos of themselves, their school name, city or town where they live, email address, and their cell phone number. According to that same report, “Teen Twitter use has grown significantly: 24 percent of online teens use Twitter, up from 16 percent in 2011.”