By Kurt Rohrs |
Do you know who is talking to your kids and what they are saying to them?
The mental health of children is one of the current hot topics in education. This is prompting a call for an army of social counselors, social workers, and child psychologists to be hired by school district administrations to address the issue.
Kids definitely appear to be more stressed now than they have been in the past. Some recent suicides by some of our students highlight the shocking and tragic consequences of this.
While hiring more mental health professionals in order to address the symptoms of student stress is one effort that is being pursued, the key question that still needs to be addressed is: what is the primary cause of this excessive stress?
At a recent conference on student mental health, I was able to ask several professionals this very question. All of them responded with the same answer: the influence of social media.
The Influence of Social Media
“Social Media Influencer” is now a lucrative profession. Professional influencers promote trends or products and can be highly compensated for their efforts. It is essentially a new advertising medium targeted at a young audience—including your kids.
But there is a darker side to social media influencing, particularly with cyberbullying or the promotion of lifestyle choices that run counter to parenting efforts. This can have a very harmful effect on impressionable young minds, sometimes with devastating consequences.
Many of these social media posts come with an overt or implied warning, “Don’t let your parents know,” which strips children of their primary protection against undesirable influences.
Some Social Media Channels
Tik Tok is a very popular social media site with wide public distribution that consists mostly of short videos, often recorded on a cell phone, that can entertain and amuse young minds. The intent is for a popular post to “go viral” and be shared by many people across the platform leading to an increase in the poster’s credibility as an influencer. But there are other postings that parents may find to be undesirable to have their children exposed to including drug and alcohol use, sexuality and sexual activity, and political extremism.
SnapChat is an app that is often used for small group text and video conversations between kids. The primary feature of this site is that messages are automatically deleted by the host server after a short period of time and can no longer be seen. This is supposed to protect someone from exposure of their malicious posts. The posts can only be preserved if someone takes a picture of the message, known as a “screenshot,” which can be saved on their phone or personal computer.
Many social media applications also have a feature that allows users to take conversations offline into private one-on-one exchanges through direct messages or texts. This is where a lot of cyberbullying occurs since it is generally out of the public spotlight.
Who Shouldn’t Be Talking to Your Kids?
Adolescents, who are often the instigators of malicious social media attacks that harm other kids, are not adults and have not yet developed the self-control necessary to avoid such transgressions. They are not fully aware of the consequences of their actions and often lash out without thinking. They need adult supervision.
Ill-intentioned adults, even some that could be considered as “predators,” find social media a useful way to communicate and mislead children into accepting narratives that normalize, enable, and encourage questionable behaviors. This process is also known as “grooming.”
There have also been reports of some educators using these social media channels to communicate directly to their students about their personal political and social opinions in order to circumvent restrictions that are imposed in the classrooms. Several of these educators have been exposed and removed from their positions.
Parents Need to Start Fighting Back
When it comes to social media, parental involvement is crucial. Parents need to be aware of who is talking to their kids and what they are saying.
The first step is to get on these social media platforms and monitor the conversations. Parents need to know what is being said to their kids and who is saying it.
The second step is to actively respond to objectionable content and discourage it. The argument that this somehow stifles “free speech” ignores the obvious fact that objecting to a public expressed opinion, particularly if it considered harmful to children, is also just as much of a free speech right. An army of concerned parents commenting on questionable posts should slow this down considerably.
Canceling the “Cancel Culture”
It can be said that “political correctness” has proceeded almost unchallenged in social media and in our classrooms. Any objection to the prevailing social narrative is often met with vigorous, and sometimes vicious, personal attacks on any courageous individuals who dares to speak up. The intent is to silence dissent and intimidate any reasonable opinions to the contrary.
This is where parents need to step up and brave the storm. They need to become active and support each other by pushing back on undesirable ideologies that are presented in social media. There are far more concerned parents out there than there are bullies and groomers. It’s time to go on offense. There should be no “safe space” for people that want to mislead your kids.
Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.