Youth Service Bureau explains social media to parents

Kjell Sandstrom, Distribution Reporter

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“The Internet is like a swimming pool. We don’t tell kids to not swim in the pool, we teach our kids swim!” explained Youth Services Bureau therapist Lea Thornton. This was the overall message conveyed at the social media awareness presentation held by the Youth Service Bureau April 13 at Stillwater Area High School. The presentation offered help to parents in talking to kids and teenagers about healthy and responsible use of social media.

Social media and technology in general have permeated the lives of modern teenagers, According to the 2012 Pew Research Teen Fact Sheet, 81 percent of teens online are on some sort of social media. Teens use social media for various uses, from social connections in sites like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, to creative expression through sites like Tumblr and Pinterest.

Thornton explained, “Social media gives opportunities for connections, independence, creativity and development of self. Teens turn to social media for validation.”

However, social media creates a number of risks to teenage social skills. This connection to portable devices and social media creates a void in real life social skills, socially impairing the brains of today’s youth. This impairment can be scientifically proven.

Parent Education Coordinator Sarah Holmboe explained, “The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s social center, and it does not activate in online, non face-to-face interactions.”

With many interactions being non face-to-face, be it texting, instant messaging, phone calls, Snapchats, etc. Holmboe and Thornton recommend a middle ground, not an all out ban on social media, but a healthy balance of online and face-to-face interactions.

Thornton explained, “Parents should help kids balance their tech enthusiasm with face-to-face communication and personal relationships, as well as helping them develop self regulation skills with their tech usage.”

Parents should help kids balance their tech enthusiasm with face-to-face communication and personal relationships, as well as helping them develop self regulation skills with their tech usage.”

— Lea Thornton

The personal detachment from online interactions, through the anonymity of profiles and the non-employment of the brain’s orbital frontal cortex, the Internet can become a vicious place, harboring and encouraging bullying. Cyber bullying can range from mildly hurtful YouTube comments to unrelenting attacks through instant messaging.

Holmboe explained, “Cyber bullying is usually aggressive and relentless. The problem is that the social cues that govern our interactions diminish online. Cyber bullies can see no pain and therefore there is no empathy.”

However, as anonymous as bullies feel online, they are never truly anonymous. There are always ways to trace accounts to a face behind a computer, and that is exactly what Youth Service Bureau does when cases of cyber bullying becomes too hard for the victim to handle. Youth Service Bureau encourages teens to speak out if they feel threatened online. They are not the only ones who need help.

Holmboe added, “Both the victim and the bully need social-emotional help in almost every case of bullying.”

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The school has processes set in place for cases of cyber bullying, Assistant Principal Chris Otto explained, “We deal with cyber bullying like any other bullying.” Assistant Principal Aaron Drevlow added, “We get the police involved is the case serious. If not that serious, we try to mediate and restore relationships between the two parties.”

At the end of the presentation, Thornton left us with this message, “Social media isn’t inherently good or evil, but it is powerful.” Through the help from Youth Service Bureau, parents can hopefully create a tech-savvy and socially well-rounded generation.


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