The internet is not all “sugar and spice and everything nice”, sometimes there are “snips and snails and puppy-dog tails” that we all need to be aware of. We would be negligent if we did not speak to some of the bad that the internet and social media have to offer, especially if a youth is allowed to participate online unsupervised.
Although we believe that social media for teens, when used in a balanced way, has more positives than negatives, there are onlife personal challenges that can be precipitated by technology, that both parents and teens need to be aware of including:
- Not getting enough sleep – on their devices to all hours
- Social comparison specific to body image – on sites like Instagram or VSCO
- Digital peer aggression – cyberbullying
There is good research, that we will speak to in this web book, that finds that there is a strong association, not necessarily causation, between these three challenges and the fact that they can lead to heightened anxiety and even depression, especial with teen girls.
As Dr. Sonia Livingstone stated, “The very same characteristics of the internet that make positive contributions possible (immediacy, portability, intimacy, unconstrained reach and lack of supervision and regulation) have facilitated serious social, intellectual, and mental health risks.”
Teen Based Less Than Desirable Behavior:
Unfortunately, there is always a small cohort of teens that will engage in less than desirable online behavior. Some behavior that we have witnessed include:
- Seeking validation for inappropriate online behavior.
- Competing in popularity contests that are ego-based
- Creating hate pages of other teens, teachers, parents, and schools
- Venting and throwing shade at others online
- Showing off
- Getting involved in negative drama online with other teens
- Threatening, harassing, bullying behavior
- Hacking school district computers and networks
- Doing crime
Although it has been our experience that only a small cohort of teens are involved in such less-than-desirable behavior, adults and caregivers have a habit of taring and feathering this entire generation with this belief. The fact remains that the majority of this generation are doing super uber cool things online, and we older adults and caregivers need to start recognizing this fact.
Sexual Predation & Exploitation:
According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, in 2020 they experienced a 57% increase (68 in 2018 vs 107 2019) in reports of adults contacting children ages 8-12 years of age online, wanting to engage in sexual activities via live streaming.
We decided to ask teens who follow us on social media the following question:
“Have you received an inappropriate sexual message, solicitation, or offer online from someone you did not know, since school has been shut down because of COVID”
296 teens replied, and 27% (79) stated “yes”, and 73% (217) stated “no”. Yes, this is anecdotal, but it provides a good snapshot of what teens were actually experiencing during the school shut down because of COVID-19.
We will be discussing the topic of onlife sexual predation in greater detail in chapter 14 of this e-book.
Although any youth can be targeted in the onlife world for online sexual exploitation and predation, we find that those under the age of 13 years are by far the highest risk group. Where youth hang out in the onlife world, there will be those who will prey upon their innocence for sexual predation no matter what the app or social network. A colleague of ours in the United States, who teaches from a faith-based perspective, has stated that there is just as many youths being targetted in the Bible app for kids, as there are on any other popular youth apps or social network. As we like to say, it’s not the app or social network, it’s how the youth use the app or social networks that can make it problematic.
Hate Crime. Misogyny, Xenophobia, White Supremacy
Just recently (March 2021) we conducted an anecdotal survey of the thousands of teens who follow us on Instagram and asked them the following question, “Have you seen racist or hate-based speech in your social media feeds?” – 66% stated “YES” In fact, here in Canada a 2020 study found over 6,600 right-wing extremist social media channels and accounts linked to Canada https://bit.ly/3gmMR2h. According to Stats Canada, the number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada increased by 37% in 2020. Unknown to many parents, the primary targets for recruitment and radicalization are young socially ostracized males, including those in middle school and high school.
With the right to freedom of speech come those who will leverage this right to spread the message of hate, in all its ugly forms, to online platforms that are popular with youth. Unfortunately, we have seen these groups using social media to target vulnerable teens primarily as a recruitment tool. Parents need to be aware of who these groups are and how they operate, and two excellent resources are: www.antihate.ca and www.adl.org
Pornography and Hypersexualization:
The explicit pornography of today, and its easy access, is not the Playboy pornography that our dads had as we were growing up as teens, and that they hid under their bed or in their night table drawer. Some of today’s porn content includes:
- Rough Anal Sex
- ATM (Ass To Mouth)
- Spitting, and
- Severer Chocking
In 2018, the University of Calgary found that one in five youth experienced unwanted online exposure to sexually explicit material. It is also estimated that the first exposure to pornography online takes place between the ages of nine to twelve.
We will be discussing the topics of pornography and hypersexualization in greater detail in chapter 16 of this e-book
With the increase of mobile digital technology; phones, Go-Pros, and Spectacles 3, comes the ability to covertly capture pictures and videos of others, all of which can be weaponized and targeted. Digital mindfulness and empathy, specific to the use of technology, are often overlooked or willfully ignored and used for the purpose of creating drama, encouraging likes and followers, or to emotionally, psychologically, physically, and socially destroy the reputation of another person. This is something that Sue Scheff speaks to in her great book “Shame Nation” that can be located here: https://www.thewhitehatter.ca/book-list
Our interview with Sue Scheff on Onlife Shaming
Social Comparison and Body Image Challenges:
We know that toxic influences online can have significant negative effects on self-esteem, especially among young girls. This is an issue that we need to talk to our kids about, especially when we know, according to MediaSmart, that 80% of 13-16 yr olds are more likely to buy a product from an online influencer https://mediasmart.uk.com/parents/ or follow their suggestions and recommendations. Here’s a great video from Dove to help get that conversation going with your child https://youtu.be/sF3iRZtkyAQ
We speak in depth on this challenge in Chapter 16 of this webbook.
The Use Of “Dark Patterns”
According to an article written in 2018 https://bit.ly/3Apr00X
“Dark Patterns are deceptive UX/UI interactions, designed to mislead or trick users to make them do something they don’t want to do”
Some of the Dark Patterns that social media and app vendors are using that parents and youth should be aware of include:
- Artificial algorithms can unknowingly lead youth and teens to harmful material such as self-harm and eating disorder sites.
- Design tricks to hold the attention of a user to keep them on their platforms as long as possible. A great example is TikTok’s infinite scrolling or Netflix’s auto-loading function – once a movie or show ends, it immediately starts to download and play another one that its artificial intelligence believes you would like to watch hoping that you will continue to watch. The longer the user stays on a social media vendor’s site, the more personal information they can collect and sell to advertisers.
- Design tricks that encourage the user to activate their GPS location on their app, such as Snapchat Maps, can help in location-based advertisements being sent to the user.
Often we are asked by parents and caregivers with children under the age of 13, is there a “safer” search engine, when compared to the big players like Google, that pre-teens can use to search the internet and reduce the risks of them coming across less than desirable content discussed in this chapter -check out https://www.kiddle.co