Too Much, Too Soon

First off, this is a tragic situation – every parents’ nightmare.  A middle-school girl committed suicide because of bullying – digital and otherwise – from some kids at her school.  The parents now intend to sue the school district for failing to put a stop to the bullying.  They are also considering suing the parents of the specific bullying students.

I have written in the past about the dangers of providing children with unfettered access to the Internet and social media.  I disagree strongly with parents who circumvent age-restrictions for their kids to access social media platforms.  While details of the particular social media platforms involved in this particular bullying case are not provided, most major social media platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook – even though kids really aren’t using Facebook these days) require users to be at least 13 years old.

Kids are kids, and are always going to be pressured to conform to peer expectations.  Sometimes that pressure is going to be abusive and intense.  Other times it will be subtle and insidious.  Handing a child a smartphone with access to the Internet and social media without providing training, support, monitoring, and limitations is just plain unhealthy.  Yes, your child might be mature enough to handle it.  But I’d argue the vast majority are not.  Believe it or not, your child (or grand-child, or great-grandchild, or niece or nephew or whatever) will survive not having 24/7 access to social media.  If they are laughed at or in disparaged for this by their peers, it’s stronger proof that they shouldn’t have it.

The Internet and social media are addicting.  Adults deal with this already, and children are even more impressionable as they seek to understand and discover who they are.  Our kids – and particularly our daughter – frequently talk about how different her friends become once they have a smart phone of their own.  How they talk more about pop culture, about being pretty, and just about how they are constantly checking their phone for updates and likes and other indicators of popularity.

This pressure was brutal enough in decades past, but today’s technology permits it to occur 24/7.  No break.  No escape.  Kids need their parents to be parents – to set limits, provide guidelines, to dialogue and to model healthy digital habits and behaviors.  There’s a lot at stake.

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