Another kid pushed to the edge by bullies. Another disheartened sheriff addresses a news conference. “(She) was absolutely terrorized on social media.” Another disbelieving mom tries making sense of life without her little girl. “I never, ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”
This tragedy happened in Florida, though it could have been any place. Fitting, since the internet isn’t really any place but, at the same time, it’s every place. This case of peer abuse picked up fuel on ask.fm before it exploded Monday inside a 12 year’s mind, with the thought her life was worthless. Do ask.fm and other social media sites have any responsibility for the vicious behavior of its users? Yes. Because it happened on their turf. Could they do more to make their sites “safer.” Absolutely. Kids haven’t yet learned to manage their destructive emotions. They flip out of control frequently. That’s why adults monitor what goes on during school recess. Someone has to keep the peace because kids can’t do it themselves. Is it a perfect system? No, but it helps.
Social media is the largest unsupervised playground, yet where are the monitors? If anyone 15 years ago thought that kids online would naturally treat each other with respect, he’s surely woken up by now. We’re all awake now, aren’t we?
Social media sites need human moderation. That won’t completely solve the problem of bullying, but it will help to lessen it. Parents, find out which sites your kids frequent and what level of moderation (if any) those companies use. Bottom line: Your kids should not be on social media sites that don’t have human moderation in real time. Anything less puts your child at an unacceptable level of risk. Take away your business and see if that gets them to clean up their act. Pressuring social media sites to take responsibility for the well-being of their tween and teen users, is an essential step. We also have to do our part, as parents and teachers. Our children seriously need an education at home and at school. Kids are so vulnerable to peer approval addiction, their thinking about right and wrong can get totally warped in the moment. Parents, kids, teachers, school administrators, counselors, coaches, youth leaders, mentors, all of us need to do more to reel in the culture of cruelty. Every day in which we react to a tragedy with a make-shift memorial, instead of the daily work of building schools and communities of compassion and respect, is a day we’ve failed our kids.
Annie Fox is a San Francisco-based character educator and parenting coach. Her books include: Teaching Kids To Be Good People, Too Stressed to Think? and the ground-breaking Middle School Confidential™ book and app series. Annie can be reached at AnnieFox.com
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