Editor’s Note: This a continuation of the last article in a series of four about Social Media for teens and young autistic adults as well as advice to parents. Paddy-Joe, our resident young autistic adult reporter explores how parents can monitor and assist a child in the use of Social Media. While the articles have a focus on autism, the advice is universal.
The internet and social media will not be a part of everybody`s life, but for most teenagers it is a large part of how they stay in touch with their friends, and arrange social things. Of course some parents don’t like this, but the reality is that this is the world we live in, whether you like it or not. Children shouldn’t be denied the right to socialise just because it’s not the way their parents would choose to do it, especially if somebody has difficulties with face to face communication the way autistic people have.
Overall, it`s understandable for parents to be worried – their child is more vulnerable than the average child – and of course the parents will be nervous if the child is putting themselves in a situation where they could be bullied, or otherwise singled out on-line. But it is like anything else, every child has to take a risk at some point; whether it`s crossing the road, or leaving home – obviously if they are not physically able to do these things then they can’t – but otherwise parents have to face up to them as a natural part of life. And this is the same when it comes to using social media.
Why should your child be singled out as the only one who can’t use social media? If they weren’t autistic would there even be a problem? As a parent that`s what you really need to ask yourself; are you actually doing more harm than good? And should you just let them take this step, even though it might be risky? Learning to use social media safely with a parent is safer than having the young person doing it without their parent’s knowledge.
People hear terrible stories about teenagers who kill themselves after receiving hateful comments on the internet, and are understandably fearful for their child or young person – with or without autism – but what they forget about it the many young people who receive similar comments every day, and get the support they need to deal with this. Of course it isn’t possible to ignore on-line bullying all the time, but the sad reality is that if you spend any amount of time on-line, especially if you are a teenager, you will probably receive messages telling you to kill yourself, or that you are worthless at some point. The best reaction to this is to simply ignore it, and block whoever has sent the message. Any response – however clever it might sound in your head – will only draw more hurtful messages.
A lot of people say `just ignore them` for a reason; the fact is that all people do when they send messages back, or reply to comments that are intended to hurt them, is draw more hate on to themselves. People can be bullied for anything on the internet, and there is no point in getting in to an argument on-line. There is a difference between people you actually know in real life bullying you on- line – which is something you can report, and will need help to deal with – and complete strangers sending you anonymous messages. Most people who send out those kind of hate messages send them to hundreds of people at the same time just to see who will respond, and who they can keep on insulting.
No one is saying that ignoring this will be easy, and parent`s should encourage their children to be willing to talk to them about it, but reporting accounts doesn’t always work. Ultimately ignoring is the best device, but it has to be done properly – try not to be one of those people who gets in to constant conversation with trolls who only want to insult them. Whatever you say, you won’t come across as clever in their eyes – you`ll simply open yourself up to more ridicule.
The best thing parents can do is to explain all of this to their children and make sure to emphasise the futility of trying to engage with an on-line bully.
You have to trust your child, and you have to also trust your skills as parents – that you have equipped your child with the knowledge to deal with these types of things.