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GUEST POST: Cyberbullying, Social Media and Teen Suicides – What is Going On? — by Debbie Harris

We’re going to take a slight break from the norm here and let someone else take the mic for a song…

Debbie Harris is an expert on social media compliance and the law, and she has very kindly allowed us to post this article of hers right here on our blog. Read on…

Cyberbullying, Social Media and Teen Suicides – What is Going On?

by Debbie Harris

This whole issue of cyberbullying seems to be taking on a life of its own.  It is not only here in the United States that these issues are materializing but in countries such as India and Canada, Canada is trying to help the police with combating cyberbullying by giving them more access to combat these problems.  In addition, in Canada the government is also looking for a 24/7 monitoring of social media sites.  This is not just for cyberbullying issues.  Here in the United States a recent suicide of a 12 year old girl in Florida prompted authorities to arrest two girls who were tormenting her.  They are 12 and 14. This begs many questions, not the least of which is whether they should be legally held responsible for Rebecca Sedwick’s death and if so, what should the penalty be?  They are very young and this “criminal” label would be with them forever.  Shouldn’t they learn to understand what the consequences of their actions were to another student?

I am deeply concerned by the statistics that show that teen suicides are at the highest level they have been in six years.  While “bullying” has been around forever, it does appear that cyberbullying takes on a much more insidious role.  This coupled with lack of parental control and/or involvement and not enough education in our schools, leads me to see this as an increasing tragedy for our youth.

I’m not sure why suicide is becoming an increasingly viable option for young people. Something seems inherently wrong with a teenager thinking that suicide is a solution to a problem.

I often advocate that parents not “spy” on their children’s Facebook page, Twitter, etc. and I still do not like the idea of “sneaking” around behind your child’s back.  That being said, kids as young as 5 and 6 are using computers and accessing the Internet – parents must be regulating this behavior much the same as they would what shows are being watched on television.  The National Crime Prevention Council publishes guidelines for parents. Facebook has gotten into the act with their “bullying prevention hub” .

One of the major issues with cyberbullying is the fact that there is no system for verifying people’s identity on social media sites such as Facebook.  There is also no way of preventing kids under 13 from signing up on these sites.  This is where parents and school administrators must work together to bring this subject out in the open.  I am happy to be out there talking to parents, students and school administrators about Flocks.com.  Verification will certainly remove “false” profiles and keep children under the age of 13 off of this growing social media site.

Another thing you can do is install SocialSafe.net on the computer that your child uses. This will download and save everything on their social media sites on that computer. This will give you a record of everything and everyone.  I use it.

While cyberbullying may not be the catalyst for all teenage suicides, it certainly has the potential to prompt a troubled youth to take the most drastic measure possible.  We need to reach our kids and explore why so many are so troubled.  Is it because so many adults are troubled, unhappy, stressed and afraid?  Looking in the mirror may help parents and others get a clearer view of what teenagers they know may be experiencing.  We learn what we see. Teenage years are never easy but technology in all its wonder may be contributing to their sense of alienation much the same as it does to ours at times.  It certainly can contribute to accelerating bullying way beyond the school cafeteria, classroom and schoolyard.

Reach out to our youth.  Volunteer your time.  Be a mentor.  Use social media and even texting to “connect” with them but spend time face to face with them.  Let them know that there is someone they can trust and reach out to if they experience cyberbullying or just need someone to talk to.  As a Rotarian, I am proud to be involved in many of our youth projects and helping to create leaders of the future.  Find a way to give back to our youth, you’ll be glad you did.

If you are an expert in your particular area with regards to the use of social media and would like the opportunity to write an article for this blog, please feel free to get in touch. We’ll never post anything without your permission and will always give you full credit and a link back to your own site.


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