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31 July 2016

Online Pressures and Unhappy Children

© Konstantin Kolosov/500px
Online Pressures and Unhappy Children
by Amy Williams, edutopia.org, 8 June 2016

What do you think makes children unhappy? For many parents or educators, visions of playground squabbles or being served the wrong dessert are the first images that come to mind. However, researchers are finding a surprising new culprit for what causes children severe unhappiness: online pressures.

Unfortunately, these feelings can't be fixed with a simple menu alteration or a heart-to-heart about being nice. Pressures from social media can cause feelings of unhappiness to run deep in vulnerable adolescents. This ability tocause anxiety or depression in our sons and daughters requires us to examine social media's role in our kids' lives and emotional well-being.

False Measurement of Worth

Recent findings from the U.K. reveal that modern pressures associated with social media are negatively impacting our children's confidence and self-esteem. According to ChildLine, a confidential adolescent counseling service, today's technology is causing stress from cyberbullying, fear of missing out (FOMO), expectations linked to the amount friends online, and the value placed on garnering likes or peer feedback.

Peter Wanless, ChildLine's chief executive, says, "It is clear from the hundreds of thousands of calls ChildLine receives that we have a nation of deeply unhappy children. The pressure to keep up with friends and have the perfect life online is adding to the sadness that many young people feel on a daily basis."

As children turn to social media for a majority of their communication, they use digital presence to measure their worth among peers. Kids are very aware of who likes their posts, which pics are shared, who is left out from a tag, or how online activity can be used to portray a "perfect" image. Popularity has moved beyond the schoolyard to extend across social platforms, all intricately tied up with a child's self-image.

Acknowledging this massive transition in how today's children connect and interact with their peers is the first step for parents to start helping them navigate these new difficulties. Banning Snapchat or Instagram is not the answer. Instead, parents should know how kids use different apps, what apps to block or uninstall, and what to monitor.

Apps to Blacklist

It is believed that 70 percent of children and teens take measures to hide their online activity from parents and other adults. These can be as simple as dimming screens, closing windows, or covertly hiding apps on smartphones or devices. As social media sites and apps constantly evolve, it can be overwhelming to know which are currently the most dangerous.

Here's a rundown of social media apps and sites to blacklist in the interest of keeping our children safe:

Down
This site is Facebook's answer to Tinder, the popular adult dating site. It was originally known as "Bang With Friends" and was created to hook up friends for one-night stands. Today, Down has undergone some minor changes, but it's still geared to finding sexual encounters among friends.

Yik Yak
Designed for allowing users to interact with people in a certain proximity to their location and post messages that hide their identities, Yik Yak might appear harmless -- in the beginning. However, due to its anonymous nature, it can quickly become a hotbed of cyberbullying. Users don't require accounts to use or interact on Yik Yak, inviting a variety of negative behaviors.

Omegle
This dangerous app encourages random connections with strangers through video chatting. Even though the minimum age requirement is 18, Omeglerarely verifies a user's age. The live-streamed video can expose children to some very inappropriate or risky behaviors. Besides sexting, many predators use this site to make contact with minors.

Whisper
The danger here is that Whisper is an anonymous app where users can post "secrets and confessions." It uses GPS technology to share with other users in the same location. Whisper is infamous for spreading rumors and cyberbullying.

Ask.fm
This site is associated with at least nine suicides due to cyberbullying. Ask.fmuses a question-and-answer format that makes it very easy for bullies to harass their victims from behind the protection of a screen.

Burn Note
This app was designed to have senders' messages self-destruct a few seconds after the receiver views the post. Burn Note is an ideal platform for bullies, because all evidence of their cruel behavior disappears.

Apps to Carefully Monitor

Facebook
Hidden beneath a layer of likes and shares, kids are exposed to fake profiles, predators, and cyberbullies. Whether it's mean comments or intentional exclusion from posts, children can experience a lot of drama. While this site has made great strides in reducing cyberbullying, many groups or posts go unnoticed because people fail to report suspicious or cruel behaviors. The story of Nicole Lovell has created ripples around the world, highlighting how the seemingly harmless use of social media can lead to extreme dangers, including death.

SnapChat
According to Teensafe, Snapchat is one of the most popular apps among teens. Sent snaps are temporary and disappear after a short while. The transient measure of communication gives teens the illusion of privacy, one which is mostly missing from their overtly public and monitored lives. Snapchat is a hotbed of sexting and should only be used if teens truly understand the dangers and have fully gained a parent's trust.

Kik
Teens can sign up for Kik and instantly gain access to all users -- even if they aren't "friends" or in your contact list. This makes Kik a favorite for predators to identify and connect with future victims. Predators can pretend to be teens, connect with other teens, slowly build a friendship, then lure them into a physical meeting, which can result in various kinds of abuse. Parents need to explain this to their children and make sure that they understand the inherent dangers of this app.

Communication and Boundaries Are Key

Beyond banning and monitoring, the key to helping your children successfully navigate social media dangers is to communicate constantly with them, explaining the dangers they face. These explanations should be framed to convey that while you trust them, you don’t trust others, because you don't want your teens to feel attacked or undervalued. This ongoing conversation can employ stories in the media as conversation starters to help them understand a world of dangers that they can’t even fathom.

Let them earn your trust. Give them a little bit of responsibility, and monitor how they use it. Once you see that they've respected your trust, they can have a little more. All the while, assure them that their sense of self-worth never has to be tied to something as vacuous as social media. Real self-esteem revolves around their actions toward others, how they handle responsibility, their performance at school and other activities, etc. They need to understand that a "Like" doesn’t mean anything, and that competing in social media will always be a hollow pursuit.

Talk to them as much and as often as you can about this new aspect of growing up. It's the best way to protect them from mounting unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and danger. It could make all the difference to your child's state of mind.

AMY WILLIAMS'S PROFILE
I am a journalist and former social worker, passionate about parenting and education

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/online-pressures-and-unhappy-children-amy-williams

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