Lots of kids in my world closing their Facebook accounts in recent weeks. I find this interesting, and I’ve been asking a lot of questions from different populations of former Facebook users. Their responses have been enlightening. Here is what I’ve been told……
- In fact, many of them don’t love it. They just know they are supposed to.
- If they don’t have an account, they are pressured into having one by their peers and sometimes, even their teachers.
- Kids who don’t have a Facebook account are often made to feel less sophisticated and cool than those who do, particularly by friends, parents, and yes….teachers…who are fans of social networks.
- When they do have one, they are pressured into friending everyone, including those who may have less than friendly intentions toward them.
- If they don’t friend everyone, including those who may have less than friendly intentions toward them, they are harassed.
- Even if they don’t friend everyone, those who want to stir up trouble use accounts that are not their own to infiltrate the pages of those they want to get to. This is common practice.
- The internet provides a comfort layer that emboldens kids to say and do things they would not otherwise say or do.
- This has led to increased tension, bullying, and violence inside of schools and neighborhoods.
- Kids claim to be hyper-vigilant about checking their pages and those of others to see who is posting what about them. This has made several of the Facebook users that I spoke to very anxious.
- When face-to-face conflicts heat up, Facebook makes it challenging for kids to take a breather or engage in a cooling off period.
- Many that I spoke to noticed a marked decrease in their happiness that they attribute to engaging on Facebook.
- Some of the kids who have admitted to the realities of Facebook tension are treated as if they are ridiculously over-sensitive or merely ill-equipped to deal with conflict.
- Teachers who admit to the same realities are often treated the same.
“We’re all just learning how to get along with each other yet,” a high school student explained. “There’s still too much drama and a real lack of impulse control. Yeah, it makes sense to teach us those things, and yeah, we’ll get there eventually. But not soon enough to prevent a lot of damage from being done. We’re given free reign inside a space that allows everyone 24/7 access to everyone else and no one knows how to treat each other just yet.”
In an ideal world, we’d be able to teach kids how to use tools like Facebook responsibly and how to manage the fall-out when conflict occurs. We’d find teachable moments. We’d begin equipping everyone better. I get that this is important work, but the kids I am talking to tell me this isn’t enough and that it never will be. Some who have the courage to say to no to Facebook are closing their accounts and taking the heat for doing so. Many others have told me that they are glad their school blocks it.
“I almost wish I could tell my friends that we don’t have internet access,” someone told me just last week. “If I close my page, there is going to be all kinds of fall-out and drama, but leaving it open is making me feel really anxious. Every day, someone is saying or doing something there that is mean or really inappropriate. Half the time, I don’t even know if it’s really them or just someone who has their password and is pretending to be them.”
“At what point do you stand up and speak out about this stuff, then?” I asked. “I mean, what do you say to these people who are saying and doing lousy stuff?”
“Not much,” one girl admitted, and I winced a little. “It’ll only make it worse. I just keep my head down and hope that they don’t stir up trouble with me next. It’s not just the ‘bad kids’ who are doing this stuff, you know. It’s just about everyone.”
“Last week, this one girl was using her friend’s account to surf profiles and start trouble with other kids for no reason at all. She was just bored,” someone mentioned.
“Do you think anything would change if kids started calling people out on their bad behavior?” I asked a few different groups of kids.
“Seriously–like we even have the time!” One boy laughed.
“It’s constant,” someone else chimed in. “If we were going to take that on, we’d spend all day dealing with those messes.”
“Last time I checked, I was supposed to be spending my days learning,” one girl pointed out.
It’s been an education.
Perhaps this post won’t win me any popularity contests, but it’s a good reflection of current reality in quite a few places across our region. I’m thinking we’re not alone.
How do we respond?