I’ve had some frank and worrying chats this week about social networking and the power/responsibility we’re handing to our children.
The sad story of 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who took her own life after being bullied online, is an extreme example of how a group of youngsters can unwittingly disrupt and affect other people’s lives.
In our day, our social network was the youth club or meeting up over the park.
You’d all chat, have a good time and occasionally have a falling-out with someone.
But then you went home and it was all over.
If someone said something hurtful or untrue, you could bat it off and the words and sentiment disappeared into the ether.
Your parents knew who you were knocking around with and if they sniffed out a bad egg, they’d give you a good poke and steer you away.
Today these hurtful or untrue comments are with you every waking moment.
Not only are they in your pocket, on your phone, on your computer and at home on the family tablet – but the on-line words are permanent and others are invited to comment and join in on the public baiting.
I reckon 99.9 per cent of teenagers are well-behaved kids who wouldn’t dream of seriously mentally or physically bullying someone.
But a normally consumable childish remark such as ‘... stinks’, when viewed and commented on by hundreds of schoolmates and strangers can create a visual and mental scar.
Life is tough enough when you’re in your teens
A marauding gang sticking the boot in is unmanageable.
One of the underlying issues is that, as a parent, it’s almost impossible to police.
Youngsters are uploading pictures, updating their statuses and commenting every few seconds – how could you possibly filter what is and isn’t acceptable?
Personally speaking I don’t think anyone under the age of 16 should have access to social networks.
It is a worryingly powerful medium, which we’re entrusting to a vulnerable group of very inexperienced people.