We have heard stories of children being bullied online – in the exceptional case, with even tragic consequences. In the great majority of cases, the result was due exclusively to the aggressive intent of the bullies.
But could there not also have been situations where the young person had something like a vulnerable relationship with the social-media to begin with?
It is often said of a young person that ‘he loves an audience’. And what wider audience could there possibly be, than the internet? The inexperienced young person may begin trying to enjoy all the benefits of having an audience – without being aware of the pitfalls.
He or she may begin relating to an ‘idealised’ audience – fantasising a hand-picked audience of like-minded souls who will always be siding with him. Eventually he’s able to interact only within a controlled and highly-selective social environment.
It is at this point that elements, previously overlooked in the potential social-media audience, may decide to make their presence felt.
If they are hostile, the person is no longer braced for the attack – and if they engage in downright cyber-bullying, the victim may crumple under the pressure.
As I say, this particular scenario may not be all that frequent. However, what is very frequent is the sight of young persons wandering around lost, as it were, in their head-phones or glued to their mobiles. At least to this extent, the social-media have been making them unsociable.
If somebody goes for a walk in the park or the country, would it not be as well to allow the sounds as well as the sights to come through – and to give the earphones-music a rest? Is a habit being formed of having to be ‘always wired’?
And when it comes to participation in a full-on world, what chance has the person of becoming involved in the full round of activities and sports – if he or she has to be forever catching up (online or by phone) with all the latest chat?
Electronic devices : putting some limits
The extreme situation – as I have mentioned previously – is where a young person becomes so hooked on ‘texting’ that he or she shrinks from picking up a phone ringing ‘live’ : in-the-now, flesh-and-blood contact has become fearsome (a finding of a London unit for the ‘de-toxing’ of such addicted youngsters).
In many homes where parents are working long hours, PlayStations and tablets have become the favoured ‘baby-sitters’ to keep the children occupied. But by now many parents have become aware of just how intrusive the social-media craze has become.
In some families with teenagers, the rule is that all electronic devices must be left in a designated ‘parking are’ for the night. And even in families where the adolescents are fully integrated into school and community groupings, some parents are worried about the actual number of hours spent on PlayStations games – even where this is by ‘link’ to friends and even where the friends are known. So here the new rule is : each week, two ‘No PlayStation’ evenings.
I have said nothing about parents needing to have information about who is being contacted online by their children. Nor have I mentioned anything about the need for parents to supervise the appropriateness of visual material being accessed by their children – because I know that most concerned parents will be well aware of their duties in these matters.
But what I have tried to draw attention to, is the sheer volume of electronic traffic to which children are exposed. And this has the capacity not only to insulate a person in his or her cocoon – but also to dumb down the adolescent.
US youngsters: 7½ hours screen-watching daily
Here I have moved a little beyond social-media as such – to include saturation by screen outlets of all types. The average American adolescent, it has been found, now spends 7 ½ hours a day in front of a screen of some sort (TV, video, etc.)
And here too, the experts tell us, one indirect effect of the whole electronic barrage is to make people less sociable. Even adults, apparently, are reaching the stage where many prefer to ‘text’ than to talk: they feel that little bit safer by keeping themselves at-a-remove from actual face-to-face conversation. (Let us not blame those children, then, who run from a ringing phone to the ‘safety’ of the internet!)
Even before the onslaught of screen and electronic media, however, withdrawal from spontaneous communication had begun. There were fewer outdoor spaces (or spaces considered safe) where children could gather. And also children were considered no longer capable of entertaining themselves. So they had to be involved in activities which were strictly organised.
In short, for many parents the notion of free-range ‘play’ went out the window… If we want people who will grow to socialise and be sociable, maybe that is where we should begin: by bringing back free-range play.