Latest Social Media Trend Should Concern Parents

As if parenting is not hard enough, we have had to remain vigilant in recent years about what our kids are doing online.

The internet constantly bombards our children with messages that undermine our values, or worse, encourage risky behavior.  And because most teens and even younger kids now have smartphones, the danger is always present and hard for parents to keep track of.

Now, a new trend is emerging on social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube – and while it may appear to be innocent fun to kids, the results can have a devastating impact on them.

Global News reported on the new “roasting” video trend:

This version of roasting involves kids uploading videos to their social media…and inviting their friends and strangers to roast them online, usually under the hashtag #roastme.

Kids are now uploading videos of themselves participating in different activities or just the normal routine of their day.  They then welcome peers – and even strangers – to comment in a critique of sorts of their behavior, dress, demeanor, or appearance.

And while it may seem fun to them and most of the comments are innocent or flattering, many posts have been mean-spirited and hurtful, leaving experts concerned that this is a new form of cyberbullying that may have dangerous consequences.

Global News reported on comments by media experts who analyze bullying and online relationships:

It might seem trivial to preceding generations – to invite insults as a form of interaction – but as bullying and healthy relationship expert Debra Pepler explains, this might be another example of kids (adolescence especially) craving attention from their peers.

“During adolescence, young people have a really strong need to belong – it’s probably foremost in their mind,” Pepler, who works in the department of psychology at York University, says. “For those who drift to the social margins of the group would do almost anything to get attention from their peers, and we know that negative attention is better than no attention at all.”

Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts, agrees.“One of the reasons we can give in general is that kids enjoy being a part of something bigger than themselves – most of us enjoy that. They like to be up-to-the-moment and involved in new trends… it feels good to be a part of a group.”

Because this generation of teens has grown up accustomed to technology and constant online use, they often have a skewed view of personal relationships. Texting and posting online are normal communication techniques for modern kids, but therein lies the problem – they are missing communication cues that are present when speaking face to face, and this tends to normalize the negative behaviors being promoted on social media.

Debra Pepler comments to Global News:

“Our brains aren’t really designed to interact through text,” she says. “Consequently, the mechanisms that have developed over hundreds of thousands of years that enable us to read social signals and mirror emotions, and understanding the impact of our behavior on others, just isn’t developed enough to do that through text.”

So when a “roasting” message is posted in the comments, for example, kids aren’t able to understand the impact it has on the other person, Pepler explains. But if it was face-to-face, she says, then you’d be able to see the emotions of distress or discomfort, and in turn, reduce the likelihood of that type of exchange happening again.

Today’s teens primarily communicate online, and the people they talk to online are usually the same ones they talk to in person.  They don’t distinguish between the online and offline world, making social media a vital part of their social lives.

This lack of distinction between the two tends to blur the lines between what is appropriate in terms of interaction with peers, and the context of a negative comment may be lost when facial expressions and body language are not present.

These experts are defining this as a new form of cyberbullying because of this lack of context and the fact that each teen has a different level of emotional sensitivity, causing it to be a potentially harmful experience.

Pepler explained to Global News:

“The reason I would define this as cyberbullying is because it meets the three criteria of bullying,” Pepler says. “The person who’s commenting is in a position of power, and the reason for that is because they have an audience larger than one and are using their power aggressively over the other person. Secondly, they’re doing things that are harmful that may cause distress… And the other feature of bullying is that it’s repeated. Although this may not be repeated over time, each time somebody else sees [these comments], there’s a possibility that it increases the sensitivities and the harm.”

“I don’t think they understand the impact that kind of post will have for them,” Pepler says. “When we interact face-to-face – if somebody says something terrible to us and it sounds just terrible to us, we might replay it in our minds but we’re never back in that context. Whereas with social media, you can keep going back and back and look at the comments that have been posted.”

What can we, as parents, do to protect our children?  The same guidelines apply to this new trend as with any other behavior.  We must keep in communication with our children and be vigilant about their online use.  Addressing this issue specifically and warning our kids of the potential dangers lets them know we are aware of what happens on social media.

We must also remind them that their behaviors online must follow the same rules we lay down for any other interactions – being respectful in words and actions towards others, staying within the boundaries we provide for them and coming to us if they see something of concern or feel their safety is endangered.

Social media is not going anywhere anytime soon, so it is vital we start these discussions when our kids are young, and continue to discuss it frequently.  Being open with our kids from an early age will allow them to feel comfortable that they can come to us for anything.  And, as always, any behavioral changes in our children should be addressed immediately.

What are your thoughts on this new social media trend?  Do you think it is a new form of cyberbullying with the potential to cause harm to our kids?  Leave us your comments.

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