And the news just keeps getting worse. According to a recent Associated Press-MTV poll, "56 % of teens have been the target of some type of online taunting, harassment, or bullying. A third say they've been involved in sexting, the sharing of naked photos or video's of of sexual activity". This is an astounding, disturbing, and scary statistic. Teens are just not getting the message, which means as adults we are just not very good at giving it!
Common complaints from teens surveyed in this article were "people spreading false rumors on Internet pages or by text messages. These teens saw "someone take their electronic messages and share them without permission, or post embarrassing pictures or videos of them without their permission. "
The difference between what this generation of teens have to face with regard to all this is that it might never go away. When I was in Middle and High school kids were mean to each other too, they spread rumors about each other too, but it went away as soon as another "story" took its place. It was still painful when you were the target, but by the end of the week, you were forgotten as someone else had the target on their back. And you could recover from the humiliation. For today's teens, the humiliation can go on and on and on. Things can get re-posted by any number of people when the spirit moves them, and when there is revenge in the air. Drama! Drama! Drama.
This is all very timely for me, as I am booked on Monday to speak to an entire high school full of teens. Thankfully not all at the same time. I will be talking/yelling/lecturing/shaking them... to hear the truth. Ok no shaking, but I just want them so much to hear and think about the long term consequences of this internet bullying/sexting naked picture taking behavior. As adults who know better, except for the ones who don't seem to know better like, Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner and a host of others, we need to get better at delivering the message that sexting/bullying can be harmful to your health. We have gotten the drinking/driving message down hopefully, and look what that takes. Showing teens bashed up cars from drunk driving accidents during prom season, having them have to experience losing a friend to a drunk driving accident. I took a poll last week in my Freshman Into To Psych class to see how many had lost a friend to a drunk driving accident, and an alarming third of the class (over ten) raised their hands. I asked if experiencing that had made a difference in their own behavior around drinking and driving, and they said yes. How sad is that, that only by a friend's death did they see a connection.
We have got to get better at this. It is our job to get this right. Our teens are being driven by brains that look for the awesomeness of it all, by the worry that they have to be one with the crowd, and do things they don't necessarily want to, and by a culture and technology that provides them with the means to
behave anonymously with little regard for consequences. Your job is to get that. Rather than pointing the finger at them and saying, "you better not", you need to understand with them how hard this new world is. You might say: " I get kids do this stuff, and I know that you are a kind and thoughtful person, and probably don't want to get caught up in this frenzy, but I get its hard not too when kids see this as a norm. And what people think about you feels so important and that you might feel the need to participate in things you don't want to so your friends will think you are "one of them" I know this must be so hard sometimes. I want to be able to help you with this stuff. I promise I won't get mad, or call someone's parents, I just want to help you get out of situations that you get stuck in before they bite you in the ass!"
Parents you need to scour the newspaper, magazine, the internet for real stories about what has happened to kids as a result of bullying/sexting/texting. Inform, educate and yes, scare the s**t out of them. Use that metaphorical bashed up car. Start with this article, this is dinner conversation, driving in the car conversation, lying in bed and snuggling conversation. http://www.boston.com/yourtown/boston/southboston/articles/2011/09/28/young_people_say_online_meanness_pervasive_poll_says/