Monthly Archives: November 2011

Link: Another teen suicide victim tied to bullying

This post by CJAD’s Kim Fraser includes a poignant interview (in French only) with the mother of 15-year-old Marjorie Raymond, who killed herself this past Monday after three years of unrelenting bullying by her peers.

Chantal Larose, the mother of the pretty Gaspé teenager, found her daughter’s suicide note. It starts off (in French) “Dear Mom, I am terribly sorry for what I have done.  Please know it’s not your fault. You are the best mother in the world, it’s just that life, I can’t go on…”

It’s hard to imagine how any parent could handle this kind of tragedy. My heart breaks for her.

Experts have begun calling this suicide in response to bullying “bullycide,” a term first used in 2001 by Neil Marr and Tim Field in their book Bullycide: Death at Playtime. The desperation these tweens and teens felt led them to take their own lives. They simply couldn’t imagine a way out.

Marjorie’s mother tells interviewer Kim Fraser that the school did not take their complaints seriously, and little was done, even when the psychological intimidation escalated this year into physical assaults. But she admits that herself didn’t realize how bad it was, even when her previously responsible student began skipping school.

Fraser ends her post by asserting that too many schools and adults still don’t take bullying seriously enough. I can’t agree enough.

And if you aren’t sure, listen to Chantal Larose’s heartbreaking plea for those in charge to listen more closely: “I wish that something would change from this. Because I can’t stand the thought that my daughter died for nothing.”


Use of Facebook by kids linked to drinking, drug use

Facebook babyIt will come as no surprise to anyone who has worked with kids to know that researchers have found a correlation between kids spending time on Facebook and alcohol and drug use.

It just makes sense. So much of what kids are doing online is a public performance of their digital personas, their “second selves” (as researcher Sherry Turkle has famously described it). It can be exhausting and stressful, but kids put an awful lot of effort into meticulously curating and refining their public face on social media: who their friends are, who comments on their walls, which pictures of which parties appear on their profiles, which brands and bands they “like,” etc.

And a significant amount of this for many kids involves posting pictures or making comments about drinking and drugs. A quick search on YouTube reveals countless videos of kids high on various substances, drunk or experimenting with other high-risk activities from car surfing to the choking game. These images and references have become a significant part of pop culture for our kids.

And since only 39% of parents say they are actively monitoring their kids’ activities online, the rest seem to be posting whatever they want without supervision.

As a parent, this is a huge wake-up call. Our kids are getting online younger and younger — a new study of 4,000 U.S. parents found 53% of their kids were on Facebook or Twitter by age 11. And the things they are exposed to are difficult to explain or control. Once something is seen, you can’t un-see it.

Another study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that  teens who use Facebook and other social media outlets are five times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to drink alcohol and twice as likely to smoke pot than teens that don’t use social networks.

Now since correlation doesn’t imply causation, the researchers decided to go a little bit further in trying to find the source of influence. They looked at kids online who were exposed to images and videos of kids getting drunk or using drugs. It makes sense that seeing these things works to normalize this kind of behaviour – as if drinking and drugs are just part of being a teenager.

What they found is that 40%of kids online see pictures of kids drunk, using drugs or passed out when using social media sites, compared to 14% of kids who don’t use social media.

Half of the social media users who saw such pictures reported seeing them before they were 13 years old.

So it sort of follows that this exposure is connected to patterns of use. Kids who report having seen these kinds of images are

  • Three times likelier to use alcohol;
  • Four times likelier to use marijuana;
  • Four times likelier to be able to get marijuana, almost three times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription, and more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less; and
  • Much likelier to have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs.

So what should parents do? Despite the new technologies, the recommendations follow the same kind of advice parents have always gotten about risky behaviours, with a high-twist:

  • Start talking to your kids about smoking, drugs and alcohol when they are young. If you wait until ages 11 or 12, someone else will have beaten you to it, and there’s no guarantee the information they passed on was correct.
  • Clarify your family values about these activities from the time they are young.
  • Model responsible use yourself. Your kids are watching carefully.
  • When you do allow your kids online, take steps to monitor their accounts carefully. It is not enough to friend them online. You must also have their passwords (at least until they are old enough to demonstrate consistent, responsible behavior). You must help them set their privacy controls. You must log in with them regularly to monitor what they are doing and what their friends are saying. If you don’t know how to do this, find another trusted adult who can help be a part of this supervision.
  • You should regularly review the browser histories.
  • Keep up a regular dialogue about the things they are seeing online.
  • Keep an eye out for warning signs of alcohol or drug use.



Kids, kindness and cruelty online

Have you heard the story about the girl who Skyped with a close friend while she went to the bathroom, only to find the video posted online? Or the teen who (somewhat inexplicably) updated her status to say she’d gotten her period for the first time, and though she quickly regretted it and took it down, realized news had circulated like wildfire? Or the boy who texted some friends about an impromptu party at his house when his parents went out of town, and had hundreds of kids he didn’t know turn up and trash the house?

Stories like these have become Internet lore, the kind of urban legends (true or not) that illustrate our concerns about how new media technologies can magnify the fallout of typical teenage naiveté.

But is our re-telling of these stories gossip? Cautionary tales for our kids and other parents? Or do they function like modern-day ghost stories, keeping the bogeyman at bay through ritual repetition? It’s important to know whether these stories are simply reflections of our own anxieties at something new, or if they reflect a new reality for teens that is actually more dangerous because of the Internet?

A new report prepared by the Pew Internet & American Life Project suggests that being a teenager in an age of social media might not actually be dramatically different from what it used to be back in the dark ages before Facebook (which only opened to the public outside of colleges in 2006).

The report, entitled “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of ‘digital citizenship,'” is based on interviews with 799 American teens from all backgrounds. The findings show that although negative interactions and occurrences are not uncommon online, that majority of teens report generally positive interactions. It does seem to suggest what experts have been saying for some time: parents have to be actively involved in what their kids are doing on the Internet.

Some key findings:

  • 69% of teens say that kids their age are mostly kind to one another on social media sites (compared to 85% of adults asked the same question)
  • 20% of teens say that kids their age are mostly unkind to each other on social media, while 11% said “it depends” (compared to 5% of adults who believe their peers are unkind).
  • 88% of teens report having seen people being cruel to one another (compared to 69% of adults). 12% said they saw cruel behavior “frequently,” 29% say they saw cruelty towards others “sometimes,” and 47% say they saw that behavior only “once in a while.”
  • 15% of teens say they themselves have been the target of harassment online in the past 12 months; 13% of adults also said this was the case.
  • Many more teens reported positive outcomes from using social media (78%) than negative ones (41%).
  • 65% of teens have had an experience on a social media network that made them feel good about themselves; 58% have had an experience online that made them feel closer to another person.
  • 25% of teens have had a face-to-face argument or confrontation with another person
  • 22% have had an experience online that ended a friendship
  • 13% had an experience online that caused problems with their parents
  • 13% of teens had an experience online that made them feel nervous about school the next day
  • 8% got into a physical fight with someone because of something that happened online; 6% got into trouble at school.

When it comes to bullying, it seems that the resources of technology are yet one more tool in a varied arsenal designed to torment others.

  • 19% of teens say they were bullied in some way over the past 12 months, usually in multiple ways
  • 12% report being bullied in person
  • 9% report being bullied by text messages
  • 8% experienced some form of online bullying, whether by email, through a social media site or instant messaging.
  • Girls are much more likely than boys to have been bullied in various ways, except for in-person bullying, which happened to both sexes equally.
  • 95% of kids who have witnessed cruel behavior online have witnessed others ignoring it, but 84% have also seen others defend the person being harassed or ask for the behavior to stop.
  • 67% of teens who’ve seen people harassed online have witnessed others joining in the harassment; 21% have admitted they themselves joined in.
  • 53% of those who sought out help and advice regarding cruelty online went to a friend; 36% went to a parent

What role do parents play in their kids’ use of the Internet?

  • 86% of those online say they have received general advice about responsible use of the Internet from their parents
  • 58% of teens say their parents are their biggest influence on what they think is appropriate behavior on the Internet or using a cellphone; 18% say their friends are their biggest influence; 18% say “no one” is an influence
  • Younger girls aged 12-13 say they are much more likely to rely on the advice of a friend than a parent regarding the Internet
  • 39% of all parents have “friended” their kids on social media sites; of parents who were already online, 45% report “friending” their kids

When it comes to thinking about the potential ramifications of what they post before hitting the Send button, not all teens are thinking ahead:

  • 55% of teens say they have decided against posting something because they say it might reflect badly on them in the future
  • Older teens (14-17) were more likely to think this than younger teens (12-13) – 59% vs 46%
  • 67% of 17-year-olds say they think about the consequences before posting things online.

To read more of their findings and for full discussion of their methodology and results, click here. To hear a really interesting interview on CBC Radio’s Spark with  Amanda Lenhart, Pew Internet’s lead researcher on this project, click here.