So whilst listening to Radio 1 on my way to work, I was shocked to learn that “1 in 3 teenagers meet social media ‘friends’ in real life”. The BBC Newsbeat report gathered this data from a selection of over one thousand British teenagers, aged 15 to 18. The subject really intrigued me as I have recently read Hannah Raine’s WMW article The Digital Dating World and am currently writing my weekly From the Mouths of Men column, in response to this discussion.
I have never used internet dating or social media, to explicitly meet new people (other than the lovely ladies I have connected with at WMW) but I have nothing against doing so. What surprised me about the above statistic however is that teenagers are using this method so regularly. I think in my mind teenagers are always out with their mates, having a laugh and largin’ it or so on. However when I thought about it with more consideration I remembered the social awkwardness, the crippling shyness, the embarrassing acne and so on that made socialising so difficult at that age; and so started to realise that social media as a means of connecting with people can be a solution for youths cursed with self doubt and insecurities.
My concern however, stems from the research I started to do on the subject. As soon as I started searching for keywords ‘teenagers’, ‘online’, ‘dating’ and so on my browser was full of headlines proclaiming “Teenager raped after meeting up with ‘social networking’ contact” and “Facebook murderer to serve at least 35 years”.
The convenience of meeting up with social media friends might make it a popular choice, but often these teens are at their most emotionally vulnerable and easy targets for online predators. Worryingly the survey also revealed that “25% said they feel happier online that in real life”. The through that a third of British Youths are putting themselves at risk in this way in attempt to gain happiness is a real sobering thought.
Having attended several courses on online safety as part of my teaching work over the years, I could easily list the ‘rules’ of keeping safe online. However these apply to ‘kids’ and these statistics refer to people that are ‘young adults’ . It can be much more difficult to govern how they use and respond to the internet. With connectivity available in their back pockets, how aware are parents of their teenager’s internet socialising?
I just hope that general good parenting, the willingness to listen, the openness of discussion, is enough for parents to ensure their teens approach them when such issues arise. What are your feelings? Would you let your teenager meet a ‘social stranger’? Can parents really say to their 17 year old daughters, “You can only meet them if they come round to our house for a cup of tea first”? I’d love to hear your thoughts ladies and don’t forget to look out for my From the Mouths of Men article, to get their views about online dating.