One of the questions Angela Carstensen asked her author’s panel at AASL was about their use (or lack thereof) of social media in their books. The responses were very thought-provoking and left me with much to ponder as my school shuts down for Thanksgiving Break.
The first response that made me really think was Kimberly McCreight’s (she’s the author of Reconstructing Amelia, which heavily uses social media as Amelia’s mom searches for the reasons behind her fall from the roof of her school). At the risk of spoiling, I’ll just say that there is some bullying involved in the plot, as well as a tell-all blog. Ms. McCreight’s response was that bullying has been intensified by social media – in decades past, home may have been a safe space for the bullied but now text messages can arrive at any time, spoiling sleep.
“Just turn if off” may be great advice, but is it realistic? The bullied know that the messages are still coming in and will be there when they wake up and turn it on. What before used to be perhaps graffiti in the bathroom or painted onto a locker is now posted not just locally but globally. There is no safe space, thanks to social media.
It also got me thinking about the not-quite-bullying, almost the opposite of the negative attention: no attention. The socially insecure whose “friend requests” are ignored, the public posting of photos of parties and events that they’re not invited to, the comments on others posts and photos that are met with deafening silence or are deleted. Yes, it’s easier to find like-minded people further from home but don’t we all really want to be known and accepted in school? And I also thought about two kids I know, one a junior in high school the other in 8th grade (they’re siblings). For a variety of reasons, their parents have severely limited their at-home interaction with “screens” to one hour a day (not including educational use). The two have to make decisions about whether they want to go on Facebook or watch a tv show or play Xbox or post to Pinterest. I’ve never asked them how they feel about this, or how it may be affecting their interactions with their peers.
One of the things I’m thankful for is that when I was growing up, during that socially awkward, personally awkward stage, broadcasting those moments and that torment was limited to prank “I’ve got a crush on you” phone calls (and laughter in the hallways the next day) and mean girl graffiti. The parties you didn’t get invited to? Only your classmates really knew, not their friends across the globe. As an adult I have the strength and mental equipment to deal with anything like that that might happen, but back then? Not even close.
As someone who works with girls going through that stage in their lives, it’s something I need to be more aware of and watchful for because it can feel so much worse now, given the reach (and permanence) of social media.