FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — With the simple swipe of a finger, your child could unlock the darker side of social media.
HUB of Hope is an organization dedicated to helping victims of cyber bullying and sex-trafficking who were targeted through social media. Founder Jenny Sorey said the issue with social media is that teens sometimes have trouble separating reality from the world they encounter online.
“Not everything they see there is reality, but I think with a child or teen what they are seeing they don’t realize that’s not necessarily reality for them,” Sorey said.
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 73 percent of teens have access to a smart phone. Many of those phones have apps like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Social media “plays a big part I think in just the judgment of themselves,” Sorey said. “I think there is an emotion identity that’s attached there.”
Sorey said she thinks the technology-driven world we live in has a negative effect on today’s children, creating potential dangers every time they swipe, message, follow or post.
Ron Warren is an associate professor of communication at the University of Arkansas, who said the constant availability of interaction across social channels is a part of what makes the media unique to today’s teens.
“The biggest change that their parents’ generation would notice is that it has changed the way their kids interact,” Warren said. “Their relationships happen online because they can happen there all the time.”
Warren said the primary issue he sees with social media is that kids do not know how to disconnect from their devices. He said that though social media may have dangers, the threat of serious harassment is not as big as it seems.
“The best thing to remember is that it doesn’t happen to all the kids. The numbers vary, but it’s usually a pretty small percentage of kids,” Warren said.
He also said it’s important for parents to be involved in what children are doing online. Parents need to be informed on what kinds of content children can encounter on social media.
Melissa Fink, the principal at Jones Elementary, said she takes it as part of her responsiblity to ensure the safety of her students online.
“Kids are having devices at a much younger age and with that comes a lot of responsiblity–and it’s not a responsibility that kids just know how to do,” Fink said.
Fink decided she could most affectively help the kids at her school by being a part of helping their parents. She decided to host a free internet safety class during the school year.
“We just drilled down and got very specific about Snapchat and Instagram, we got very specific about cyber bullying,” Fink said.
Many of the parents present at the meetings admitted to not being social media savvy. The workshop was intended to give parents a greater base of understanding for social media, especially through awareness about the kind of dangers a child can stumble upon online.
Parents “need to know passwords to all of the apps the children have on their phones and they need to be monitoring constantly and having those open and honest conversations,” Fink said.
The common theme echoed by experts is that talking with your kids can make all the difference in assuring they don’t fall victim to harassment online.