Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Plenty of time later for Facebook

June 19, 2013

Q.My dad said I’m too young for Facebook. I’m 11. Most of my friends are on Facebook. My dad just doesn’t get it. What’s the big deal? – 11-year-old female

Mary Jo’s response: I agree with your dad, although I hear your concern. Social media sites like Facebook have age limitations and require users to be 13 or older to register. Yet a 2011 study showed that millions of young people under 13 are signing up for Facebook, often with the help of an adult. Lying about your age to do what your friends are doing isn’t a good idea. Researchers believe allowing children to break the rules sends the wrong message and exposes children to a digital world without preparation for that reality. The world of social media contains real-life threats of inappropriate content, contact from strangers and the possibility of bullying by computer.

Consider this: An 11-year-old lies and inflates her/his age to sign up for Facebook. In time, that young person would like to change the age to make it accurate. Facebook doesn’t allow the change, so in time a 14-year-old is presented to the computer world as 18 – an adult. Lying to a person is one type of fib; lying to a computer can put a child in danger.

I think more parents should be like your dad. There’s plenty of time for adolescent drama. Stay 11 as long as possible.

Q.Could my child be involved in cyberbullying? A classmate has called her names via texts and posts mean things about her on Facebook. Now this girl is sending my daughter tweets. The problem is, I’ve read my daughter’s Facebook page, and I monitor her text messages and her Twitter account. This seems like a give-and-take situation. My daughter has said some very rude things to this girl. Of course, she said the other girl started it. I read the article in the Sunday paper and thought I should ask you. Do you think this is cyberbullying? It sounds like an old-fashioned fight, just enacted in cyberspace. Whether or not it’s cyberbullying, I want it to stop. I’ve taken my daughter’s electronic devices. I contacted the other girl’s mother, and she was very blasé. She said that the girls just need to fight it out. What do you think? -Parent of a 14-year-old female.

Mary Jo’s response: I’m an Olweus Bullying Prevention Program trainer. The Olweus programs have been researched for decades. They define cyberbullying as bullying through email, social networking sites, chat room exchanges, website posts, or digital messages or images sent to a cellular phone or other electronic technology. In my work, I primarily see cyberbullying occurring through texting and social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. It can involve pictures, videos, rumors, text messages and even fake profiles. Cyberbullying, like traditional bullying, involves an imbalance of power, aggression and a negative action that is often repeated.

In spite of the hype surrounding cyberbullying, Dan Olweus, the psychologist who created the OBPP, believes that most bullying continues to occur face to face. A real challenge with cyberbullying is the stress it can cause a young person who feels out of control. A cyberbully is often anonymous. Cyberbullying can occur at any time of the day or night, leaving a young person vulnerable, afraid and insecure.

Some excellent sites for information on cyberbullying are: (The Cyberbullying Research Center); (the government’s anti-bullying site); and (the Olweus site).

The behavior you describe doesn’t sound like bullying, however. Bullying is one-sided, exists in a position of power and aggression, and happens over time. It does sound as if your daughter is engaged in a back-and-forth negative dialogue. Walking away from social media for a while may help. I’m glad you’re vigilant and monitor your daughter’s accounts. Your failed attempt at finding support from the other parent is frustrating but shouldn’t affect your involvement in your daughter’s life.

I suggest that you be open with your concern and discuss it with your daughter. Returning at least some of her electronic contacts could be a reward for positive behavior. Listen to her. There are many ways teens can get around “grounding” from phones and computer sites – they can use their friends’ sites, for example. Be parental and strive to really hear her concerns. Teach her how to use these devices correctly. Good luck and keep parenting!

Peer Educator response: Cyberbullying is serious. Teens should take it seriously and try not to get involved in drama. She should have her phone returned when she follows your rules, though. Connecting is a very real part of growing up. She needs to learn how to handle social media correctly.

Open house reminder: Please join us for an open house to view our new IKEA kitchen from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday at 410 N. Main St., Washington. Our peer educators will create the snacks. You’ll love the kitchen – our teens designed it, and it’s orange, turquoise, white and brown. The colors really work!



blog comments powered by Disqus