Posted by Renee Schmidt

Social Media is a HUGE part of our everyday lives…especially for teens. But what happens when a teenager’s social network goes awry?  How does a parent help them cope?

As of today, Katy Perry’s hit song “Teenage Dream” is well on its way to surpassing 86 MILLION, YouTube views!  This really got me thinking on the past.  We too often forget how incredibly hard those years of “living a teenage dream” really are. The confluence of issues such as puberty, rebellion, social life, high school grades, getting a driver’s license and worrying about getting into college all strike at the same time. It’s amazing that at such a young age, we’re able to get through so many growing challenges.

An undeniable and irreplaceable aid to teenagers, during these tough years is a strong social network; a group of friends they can fall back on. No matter how great a kid’s parents are, friends can and do relate to teens on a daily basis. This is exactly why I was surprised to hear the results of a recent Pew Research Center survey:

88% of teen social media users have witnessed “people being mean or cruel”, online.

Katy Perry sings:

“You think I’m pretty

Without any make-up on

You think I’m funny

When I tell the punch line wrong”

Unfortunately, teenage life is rarely as peachy as Perry depicts at the start of “Teenage Dream”, which is perhaps the reason for the idealistic title.

I found the above stat in my favorite NY Times section; Bits. The article titled “Teenagers Tell Researchers It’s a Cruel, Cruel Online World” further develops this issue.

The Internet is a public space for sharing content. Because it is so public, it can often be used improperly in the form of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is the use of the web as a means to bully someone. Because 88% of teens say that they have seen instances of online cruelty, it is clear that this type of behavior is all around us, and particularly pronounced among teenagers who are constantly worried about fitting in.

Although parenting a teen is traditionally a huge challenge, in this day and age, things are even more complex. The best way to feel sure your own teenager isn’t being mistreated online is to make yourself as approachable as possible. If you don’t have one, make a Facebook so your teen knows that you’re interested in the social media sphere.

What I hope the study would have asked teens, is how often they defend their peers when they are treated cruelly online. Unfortunately, I can make the educated guess that that statistic would be pretty low.

It is crucial for teens to recognize the importance of standing up for their friends through social media, the same way they would in person.

This type of proactive conduct starts at home. If teenagers see their parents and relatives standing up for others, they will be inspired to do the same online. This positive approach is guaranteed to spread and ensure that the Internet lives up to its potential as the ideal platform for sharing it can be.

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