“Social media. It’s second nature to us. It’s massive. It’s everywhere. It’s at home, on the way to school, in class, at dinner, in bed,” one of the 16-year-old girls we interviewed said.
“I just have to know what’s going on really. I know I feel guilty sometimes. I should be doing more with my time. I should be reading. It’s always on the computer and I feel if I don’t go on it, I’m missing out, ” admitted her classmate.
Another 16-year-old said she had to go two weeks without her smartphone during her family summer holidays. It was a decision enforced on her by her parents. They ensured she didn’t have access to an internet connection either. “It was kind of terrible but I got used to it. I read a lot but I missed out on a lot,” she said.
All the teens recognise fully that the anonymity of the websites invite cyberbullying. They are fully aware of how prurient it is, yet it still doesn’t stop them putting up information about who they’ve kissed, slept with and want to sleep with.
“By doing Ask FM, you’re taking a risk but you’re kind of curious to find out what people think of you. Everyone else is doing it too and you do get good stuff,” said one 15-year-old boy.
Another 16-year-old boy said: “When I did Spillit I knew I’d get bad stuff but it was just to see … just wanted to know what they would say. You do want to know”.
“There’s a lot of nice stuff posted about you and then it’s good as you realise that there’s a lot of people that care about you,” said one girl. “On Tumblr you also get to talk about bands that interest you and creative interests you have with people outside your friends.
“Often it’s the kids who are unpopular on FaceBook who are on Ask and Spillit. They really want to know what people think of them,” said another of the 15-year-old boys.
All the teenagers say they check FaceBook, Askfm and Spillit regularly on their smartphones in the classroom.
“The good bit about social media is keeping in contact, the bad bit is the bullying. Yeah, we use our phones under the table in school all the time. Yeah school rules say no but the teachers don’t have a clue what’s happening,” said one group of boys.
Adults like to talk about the real world and the cyber world. For this generation of teenagers, that division doesn’t exist. The cyber world is the real world and to cut yourself off from social media because of relentless bullying is akin to choosing to be socially disconnected.
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* LETS TALK BULLYING: Buy the Irish Examiner booklet
* Anti-bullying centre in Trinity Colege Dublin
* The Department of Justice's Office for Internet Safety
* Webwise: Online collection of internet safety resources
* Cybertraining: Academic research on cyberbullying
* Internet Safety for Schools by UCC forensic psychologist, Dr Maureen Griffin
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