Is social media fueling teen suicide?


Credit: Victor Kerlow

Parents blame stress for the suicides of two 17-year-old girls in Plano, Texas. Two boys at New York City’s Fordham Prep jumped in front of trains a few weeks apart. The youth suicide rate has been rising since 2007, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

Social media may be fueling teen suicide by encouraging young people to become “disconnected from the reality of their own existences,” writes Dr. Keith Ablow.

Facebook, Twitter, Tinder and the like have made them think of themselves as mini-reality-TV versions of themselves. Too many of them see their lives as a series of flickering photos or quick videos. They need constant doses of admiration and constant confirmation of their tenuous existence, which come in the form of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “retweets.”

Heroin use is spreading, writes Ablow. “Heroin is just the powdered equivalent of text messaging, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the technology drugs Americans— especially American teen— are mainlining every single day.”

Young people are “increasingly fascinated with dramas about vampires and zombies,” he adds. “They know something about the walking dead.”

Wisconsin athlete suspended for tweet

It’s bad sportsmanship for high school fans to chant “air ball,” “season’s over” (during a tournament) or other insults declared the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association in an email.

Mockery ensued. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas tweeted “WIAA acceptable” chants.

Instead of “airball,” he suggests: “We note your attempt did not reach the rim, but only to alert the clock operator that a reset is unnecessary.”

Also WIAA-acceptable: “We hope for a positive outcome while fully realizing that the result is not a negative reflection upon our guest.”

But the “s word” hit the fan, when a student athlete tweeted a vulgar response:


April Gehl, a three-sport star at Hilbert High, was suspended for five basketball games for her vulgar response. “I couldn’t believe it,” Gehl said. “I was like, ‘Really? For tweeting my opinion?’ I thought it was ridiculous.”

Does she have a free-speech right to use a vulgarity on social media? If not, isn’t a five-game suspension over the top?

Schools monitor students’ social media use

Concerned about cyber-bullying, suicidal students and threats of violence, more schools are monitoring their students’ use of social media, reports Skipease.  

In Orange County, Florida, the school district is paying Snaptrends, a social media monitoring tool used by numerous police departments, to monitor the online activities of students and staff.

In the first few weeks, the monitoring alerted school officials to a student’s suicidal posts and several other issues, said Doug Tripp, senior director of safety and security for Orange County Public Schools. The software will track messages that show an “unhappy, sad or depressed” emotional state.

Posts are public, so it’s not a privacy issues, says Tripp.

It sounds creepy, but . . . Is there a “but?”

Core confusion

When parents don’t understand their child’s homework assignment these days, they put it online.

“The new Common Core curriculum continues to confuse and flummox parents and children alike,” writes Twitchy, which highlights a first-grade assignment using number bonds.

common-core-example1

The text reads:

Use the number bond to fill in the math story. Make a simple math drawing. Cross out from 10 ones or some ones to show what happens in the stories.

There were __ ants in the ant hill. __ of them are sleeping and __ of them are eating. 9 of the sleeping ants woke up. How many ants are not sleeping?

When I was in first grade, I learned to add and subtract one-digit numbers. I don’t think we got to “borrowing” till second grade. We didn’t design story problems. Number  bonds had not been invented.

I also was baffled by this kindergarten math problem, which includes a number bond. When I was in kindergarten, we learned to count to 100. We had no homework.

A math teacher defends a “Common Core” math problem that’s gone viral on Facebook.

Photo not worth 1,000 words

chokehold
A Facebook photo of a principal restraining a girl who’d been fighting resulted in suspensions — for 10 students who “cyber-bullied” the girl.

Principal Todd Whitmire isn’t in trouble, despite a Facebook photo that appears to show him choking a ninth-grade girl. Ashley Johnson, 15, fell as he was pulling her away from a fight, Whitmire told the Contra Costa Times.

Ten students were suspended for “racist and derogatory comments” about the photo, the principal said. “It was the reposting, the retweeting, and keeping it alive and assigning negative comments to it and creating a hostile environment.”

The fight apparently had been planned on social media, which is why the principal was right there.

Johnson and the boy she was fighting also were suspended. She’s now wearing a neck brace and blaming Whitmire. In an at-home interview, she claimed to be “unable to move,” but a classroom video taken the day before by a school resource officer shows her moving easily, the Times reports.

District monitors students’ social media posts

In hopes of preventing violence, drug abuse, bullying and suicide, a suburban Los Angeles school district is monitoring middle and high school students’ social media posts, reports CNN.

Glendale is paying $40,500 to Geo Listening to track middle and high school students’ posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media.

When the idea was piloted last spring, monitoring identified a suicidal student. “We were able to save a life,” said Superintendent Richard Sheehan.

Recently, a student posted a photo of what appeared to be a gun, but turned out to be fake, Sheehan said.

“We had to educate the student on the dangers” of posting such photos, Sheehan said. “He was a good kid. … It had a good ending.”

Geo Listening sends a daily report to principals on which students’ comments could be causes for concern.

A 12-year-old Florida girl committed suicide after months of bullying on social media, her mother says.

Student suspended for Twitter budget ‘riot’

After the Cicero-North Syracuse school district budget was rejected by voters, students debated possible budget cuts on Twitter at #shitCNSshouldcut. The hashtag’s creator, high school senior Patrick Brown, was suspended for three days, reports the Syracuse Post-Standard. He’d called for cutting the executive principal’s job.

“I was called down to the office and told I was being suspended for harassment of teachers, which no harassment was ever committed,” Brown said. “I proved them wrong and instead they suspended me for cellphone use in class and disrupting the education process because the trend I started created a social media riot.”

Brown admits using his cellphone in class. But he doesn’t think that’s why he was suspended. “It’s wrong that I can’t express my opinion on Twitter without being punished,” Brown said. “They didn’t like our opinions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t express them.”

A lacrosse player, Brown said he’s never received a detention or any other disciplinary action at school.

When word of the suspension spread, someone created #FreePatBrown to discuss freedom of speech. Let’s hope that doesn’t start another social media riot. We wouldn’t want high school students discussing school policy and budget priorities.

Anti-bully tweets praise of classmates

An Iowa City teenager and his friends are cyber-praising classmates in protest of cyberbullying, writes USA Today.

Jeremiah Anthony created a Twitter feed to compliment his fellow West High School classmates after reading about bullies who use social media to harass other students. Anthony and two friends send kind words to classmates and teachers under the Twitter handle @WestHighBros.

Study: Cyberbullying isn’t common

Cyberbullying is not very common, “has not increased over time and has not created many ‘new’ victims and bullies,” according to research at U.S. and Norwegian schools, reports Ed Week.

The study, by longtime bullying researcher Dan Olweus of the University of Bergen, Norway, found that while, on average, 18 percent of American students said they had been verbally bullied; those who said they had been cyberbullied was about 4.5 percent. About 11 percent of Norwegian students said they had been verbally bullied, compared to about 3.4 percent who said they had been bullied in some electronic format. The study was published online in May in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology.

To discern the frequency, students were asked specific questions and reminded that it’s not bullying when they are teased in a playful or friendly way. Electronic bullying, as defined by the survey, included bullying via email, instant messaging, in a chat room, on a website—presumably including social networks—or through a text message.

Olweus found “no systematic increase in cyberbullying,” even though more young people have cell phones and use social media sites.

Why Twitter is not a good teaching tool

Once a “cool teacher” who advocated teaching with social media, Paul Barnwell now thinks Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools.

While summarizing is a real skill, do we really want students to further fragment their thoughts and attention in this age of incessant digital distraction and stimuli with 140-character blurbs? Do we want students to spend even more time in front of a screen, bypassing opportunities to converse and collaborate face-to-face?

Web applications and social media tools may engage students at first, but the wow wears off quickly, Barnwell writes. Teachers waste time on gimmicks. Students “become dependent on technology that requires too many templates, cheapens thinking, or relies on flashy graphics and movement.”

The “net generation” isn’t truly tech savvy, he adds, citing a report by the Economic & Social Research Council, which interviewed British college students. They “use Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, most often as distractions from their studies rather than learning tools.”

Do many students you interact with know how to do much more than Tweet, post to Facebook, or browse YouTube? Email is antiquated to students; after all, many kids are so used to fragmenting their thoughts that writing a substantial email is drudgery. Twitter is all the rage for teenagers and is a constant source and depository of mindless banter and instant gratification. Being tech savvy should include the ability to synthesize ideas and media forms, and create something original.

Barnwell is no technophobe: He teaches a digital media and storytelling course at a Kentucky high school, teaching students to use technology to create “photo essays, audio slideshows, and short documentaries.”