Published by Leyre Velasco, March 2011

The other day, my husband and I were sitting al fresco enjoying a coffee, when I noticed a bunch of teenagers sitting at the table next to us. Most of them were fiddling about with their latest generation mobile telephones when I heard one of the girls comment: “You should not have interfered in Laura and Pedro’s relationship. It is none of your business what they do. You have most definitely overstepped the mark! She was reading out loud the comment she had just posted, when a couple other friends immediately posted further comments of the sort.

So what? Yes, I know, it does not have to turn into a nasty situation, but, then again, the opposite could happen very quickly. Because, as Mark Zuckerberg said at a technology conference hosted by TechCrunch: “Today, users are more comfortable sharing more information more openly. The social norms have evolved.” Fair enough, I fully acknowledge the advantages of social networks but, in the case of teenagers, they can be a double-edged sword and I cannot help but thinking how easy somebody’s reputation can publicly and rapidly be damaged. What is known as cyber-bullying or “the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others”.

Because, deep down, and paradoxically, as I am saying this from a blog 🙂 , I think social networks are the perfect tool to feed one’s ego. And the ego of a teenager is still “in progress”: they need to reaffirm their identity and because the visibility of they write is immediate, they can build their personality as they post along. Some of them actually find it easier to express their views by just hitting Send, or Post than by words. Through social networks, teenagers can get adherence to their comments, involve their allies and reinforce their role as a leader. Harassing the weaker teenager is not a new phenomenon, yet the Internet allows the harasser to take refuge in the comfort of anonymity. Social networks can take the role of the new “toilet wall” where teens used to write insults and names to annoy their colleagues.

It is tricky. Whenever I have mentioned to the parents of friends of my pre-teen daughter how important it is for us to keep an eye on how our kids behave on social networks and how it is vital to promote tolerance and civism, I very often get looks as to say: You, control freak!

Well, all I can say is: would you not warn your baby if his fingers are dangerously close to an electric plug? To me, it is a question of sheer common sense because teenagers are very vulnerable yet adorable creatures (well, most times ;)) What do you think?

Further information and useful links on cyber-bullying.