This week’s blog is by Catherine A. Winn, author of Beyond Suspicion, a YA mystery released this week. Her mom’s remarriage has been hard on fifteen year old Shelby. Roger is strict and treats her like a child. When her baby brother is snatched, Shelby tells the police she’s seen a white van cruising the neighborhood lately, and she thinks she saw it at the park as well. But to her horror, the police are not interested: Pointing to angry texts to her girlfriends about getting back at Roger, they accuse her of causing Josh’s disappearance!

Teens are more likely to report that using social media has a positive impact on their social and emotional lives than a negative one. (Common Sense Research Study 2012) This is good news considering how the national media bombards us with dire warnings, predictions, and tragic news stories when things go horribly wrong.

What are some of the positive experiences teens have online? Like teens in my own family, they’ll tell you that they can stay in touch with friends who have moved to other states or cities and they can interact with each other about school functions, clubs, homework as well as asking for and giving advice. Hanging out online can be fun and involves posting selfies, pics, videos or other things that teens want others to enjoy. When friends respond to each other with complimentary comments it makes everyone feel good.

Teens also use social media to participate in charity events like the more recent ice bucket challenge for the ALS Association that swept the through the internet on many social media sites. They read national and global news stories as well as what their favorite celebrity is doing. Social media can be fun, exciting and a positive experience, but sometimes it can hurt.

In our focus groups, we asked teens about online experiences they had with bullying and harassment. In some cases what we heard was that adolescent cruelty had simply moved from the school yard, the locker room, the bathroom wall and the phone onto the internet. The simplicity of being able to replicate and quickly transmit digital content makes bullying quite easy. (Cyberbullying by Amanda Lenhart)

In Beyond Suspicion Shelby is suddenly thrust into a social media nightmare of harassment, condemnation, and bullying by strangers, classmates, and people she thought were friends. When one of Shelby’s friends attempted to defend her, she became an immediate target and accused of being an accomplice. So why are there others out there who choose to post something that would crush, humiliate, or devastate someone else? Many people make the decision to participate in bullying behavior because they enjoy the feeling of power over other people. (NoBullying.com)

If you find yourself or a friend the victim of a bullying campaign what should you do? Don’t give the bully power by replying to the post or trying to get even. If someone bullies you, remember that your reaction is usually exactly what the bully wants. (Safekids.com) The best thing to do is just ignore it, don’t try to get back at them by saying something mean about them or to them, and tell an adult who can advise you on what needs to be done. After Shelby posted her side of the story it made the situation much worse, so she chose not to read anything posted about her again and told her attorney who took it from there.

Shelby’s story is an extreme example of online bullying but even a single comment about the way a person looks, or acts, or poking fun at people can hurt. Before you post a negative comment keep in mind that everyone wants to be liked, to have friends, to get approval and pats on the back. Do your part to make social media fun, exciting, and a positive experience for you and others.

Sources used in preparation for writing this post: