Social media, bullying and violence – what parents need to know

By Eugene K. Pettis,
Co-Founder and Managing Partner

With recently reported problems regarding violence in our schools and elsewhere, it’s time to start thinking about underlying causes. Having represented the Broward County School Board for the past 18 years in a broad spectrum of legal issues, I’ve seen first-hand the tragedies that can result when violence and anger infect our youths and our community.

Anecdotally, we here at Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm have been drawing connections between the increased use of social media by our children and issues in our schools and community. Rather than focusing on school security or law enforcement as a culprit, it may be time for parents to recognize the key role of the home and community as a way to both prevent and – unfortunately – exacerbate these issues.

Clearly, one of the key issues appears to be social media. There is no doubt that texting, Facebook, MySpace, blogging and Twitter are more popular now among teenagers. Consider these findings in a Pew Research Center report:

  • 58% of 12‐year olds now own a cell phone, up from just 18% of such teens as recently as 2004.
  • 88% of teenagers with cell phones are texters. Half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.
  • 93% of teens ages 12‐17 go online

Common sense tells us it’s a lot easier to type ugly things into a cell phone or computer in private than it is to say it aloud to somebody, face to face. From there, unfortunately, it often escalates.
Parents should develop their own set of social media policies at home.  Some helpful tips to consider:
Social media:

  • Educate yourself and your children about social media.
  • Establish rules, such as not befriending strangers.
  • Use parental controls to prevent your children from accessing undesirable websites.
  • Do not allow your children to set up social media accounts, such as Facebook, unless you manage the accounts. Request their passwords so you can view the sites at any time.
  • Make sure their accounts are set to provide as little personal information as possible.
  • Join your children’s “friend lists” on Facebook and take note of their friends and the comments and photographs posted.
  • Be present when your children are online to help them navigate any potential negative influences. Having computers in their rooms makes keeping an eye on them extremely difficult.

Cell phones:

  • Parents can control all phone services that providers offer, including text messaging, phone calls, instant messages and access to Web sites.
  • Do not give children phones with Internet browsing capabilities.
  • Create family time, such as dinner time, when phone use is not allowed.
  • Do not allow children to bring their phones to school. If you do allow them to bring them to school, make sure their phones aren’t equipped with text messaging or Web browsing capabilities.
  • Require that homework and other duties be completed before phone use is allowed.
  • Remind children that cell phones and other technologies are privileges, not rights. In this regard, cell phones and technology can be great tools for discipline.

Tools for parents:

For about $40, parents can purchase Web filters providing control over every Internet-enabled device in the household, including laptops, desktops, PDAs, and even game consoles, without having to install and manage separate software on each individual device.