Protect Your Kids
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Table Talk – Conversation Starters About Cyberbullying and Drunken Facebook Photos

Last Updated: August 5, 2021

Using fresh news stories can be a great way for parents to spark discussions with their kids and teens about how to be a good cyber citizen. “Table Talk” is a series on Breaking Free, passing along recent headlines about Internet temptations and dangers. Use the questions provided to get your family thinking about Internet safety and responsibility.

Booze, Drugs, and Facebook

Does using Facebook make your child want to drink, smoke, and do drugs? This is a question being raised by the latest survey from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). Their answer: Yes.

CASA has been conducting this “back to school” survey every year for 17 years, but this is the first year they’ve included questions about  teens using social networks. Here are some of the results:

  • Compared to teens that spend no time on social networks in a typical day, teens that do are 5 times likelier to use tobacco, 3 times likelier to use alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana.
  • 40% of teens have seen pictures on social networking sites of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs. Half of these first saw these pictures when they were 13 or younger.
  • Compared to teens that have never seen pictures like this on social networking sites, teens that have seen these images are 3 times likelier to use alcohol, 4 times likelier to use marijuana, and more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less.

What should teens and parents make of this? Is this just a classic case of mistaking correlation with causation? Does seeing pictures on Facebook entice teens to mimic what they see? Or are teens who are likely to use alcohol and drugs also more likely to spot drug- and alcohol-related picture-sharing on social networks?

Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Mary Kay Hoal, founder of the kid-safe social network YourSphere, says she doesn’t think sites like Facebook enable or facilitate drug and alcohol behaviors, but, she says, “it is a media tool that normalizes and focuses attention on behavior that’s been around, frankly, for a long time.” When teens are exposed to what she calls a “free-for-all culture” online their choices offline can be influenced based on what they see as normalized behavior.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia’s Founder says the relationship between drug-related images on social networking sites and a teen’s increased risk of substance abuse “offers grotesque confirmation of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you seen images online of your peers drinking, drunk, or high? How often?
  2. Do you think when your friends see images like this they are more likely to think behaviors like this are normal or more common?
  3. Even if activities like getting drunk or high are common among your peers, does that mean they are good activities?

Bullycide: When Bullying Makes You Want to Kill Yourself

Two weeks ago today, CBS aired their new special presentation, “Bul•ly•ing: Words Can Kill.” This 43-minute news special is excellent, especially if you haven’t broached the subject of bullying with your kids.

It doesn’t just happen on school grounds anymore: it is an Internet phenomenon. As one girl puts it during her “48 Hours” interview, the computer enables kids to “throw words” at one another from a distance. And the effects can be disastrous.

As a part of this special report, “48 Hours” broaches the subject of “bullycide.” Since 1983, over 150 children have taken their own lives due, in part, to the extreme pressure of being bullied. The term “bullycide” has been around for about 10 years, but more recent cases have provoked widespread concern about it.

When it comes to bullying over the Internet, some names have made national headlines in recent years. Ryan Halligan (2003) may be the earliest known case of suicide provoked by Internet taunts, but unfortunately many others have followed: Jeffrey Johnston (2005), Kristina Calco (2006), Rachael Neblett (2006),  Megan Meier (2006), Jesse Logan (2008), Alexa Berman (2008), Michael Joseph Berry (2008), Iain Steele (2009), Hope Wittsell (2009), Tyler Clementi (2010), Ashley Rogers (2010), Alexis Skye Pilkington (2010), and Phoebe Prince (2010).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you been teased or bullied at school or among your friends? Has it ever happened over the Internet or through you cell phone?
  2. Do you believe those who bully are responsible (or partially responsible) for the depression some kids feel after being bullied? Do you think they are responsible if that depression leads to suicide?
  3. When you see bullying going on, what do you think you should do about it?

  1. Computers and cellphones increase the reach of old-fashioned bullying. Years ago the bullied party could go home, close the door, and forget about the incident. Today, bullying kids have access around the clock through technology. There’s really no escape.

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