Pathway to praise helps keep teens safe


A girl at my nephew's school hung herself last week after being cyberbullied on social networking site ask.fm.

I can state this baldly because this happened in Leicestershire, England, where reporting of suicide is not restricted as it is here in New Zealand.

The ask.fm site, which has 60 million users worldwide, is already earning a bad notoriety in New Zealand. The Latvian-based site is an "ask and answer" forum where users can invite answers to questions.

A teenage girl could put up a picture of herself in a ball dress, and ask for opinions, which sounds harmless enough. But an Auckland woman has told the NZ Herald her 12-year-old daughter was asked to provide explicit photographs of herself. She was also told to kill herself.

Even here in Featherston, I have heard of concerns about this site among the network of parents, and warnings to keep children well clear of it.

The addiction to social media fascinates me. It's a forum that seems to be even more addictive when you have no idea who is posting. Users of ask.fm can prevent anonymous questions with a simple privacy selection, but it seems the greatest thrill is having 60 million people being able to query you or simply carry out basic chat in text speech.

It's the pleasure of putting yourself out there, and seeing what kind of ripple you make. Humans love cause and effect, especially if it's quick and easy.

Attention, even abusive attention, seems to be better than no attention at all. A quick check of the site, and posters on it, seems to show reasonably robust users who are capable of saying "stuff you" and "get lost" if a question gets too weird.

But if you had no friends, and were in a bad place, and social media was your means of interaction and endorsement, then insults and threats would become lethally compelling.

You might think the most obvious thing to do would be to deactivate your account, but I have encountered Facebook users who struggle to do that, even after they've committed the most colossal faux pas on line.

The urge to make a "ripple" will always be there.

What is important for youngsters is ensuring routes to endorsement, praise and achievement are visible and obtainable - and be proud of them when they make it.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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