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‘Talk to teens’ about social media dangers

Teenagers and their parents have been warned about the negative influence of the internet and social media by a visiting expert.

Students at Somersfield Academy and their families heard from Deana Puccio, a former assistant district attorney from New York, who created the Raising Awareness and Prevention (RAP) Project.

The British-based organisation seeks to educate teenagers and their parents about a host of issues, including rape and consent, online pornography and unrealistic representations of body image.

In a talk entitled “Altered, Airbrushed and Unrealistic”, Mrs Puccio told parents that talking about these issues was a vital tool in keeping their children safe.

“This is what young people are doing. I don't care how many controls you set. You need to talk about it,” she said.

“They need to understand pornography is fiction. They need to be able to say they've seen something shocking and they don't know how to handle it.”

She encouraged parents to have their children teach them how social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp work and then explain the consequences of sharing personal information and images online.

Mrs Puccio also said while it remains up to the parents to decide whether to monitor their children's activity online, it is most important that children feel comfortable talking to their parents about these matters.

“Years ago, maybe naively, you felt you could protect your child,” she added. “If you lived in a certain neighbourhood, if you went to a certain school, you could insulate them, but because of the internet, social media, you can't do that anymore.

“Despite race, religion, they're struggling. There's a reason why suicide rates, eating disorders and self-harming are going up.

“If you're constantly being told you're not good enough, your self-esteem plummets. Particularly with young women, they will do things sexually to be accepted because they're not getting validation in other parts of their lives. So they may participate in acts that they are not emotionally mature enough to deal with the aftermath of. Because of social media they're being sexualised early, so they're dealing with much more complex issues than generations before them.

“Kids aren't dating the way we were dating. It's the hookup culture.”

Mrs Puccio said that boys were as vulnerable as girls when it came to feeling pressured by what they saw online and on TV.

“Young men are being given so many mixed messages in society [through music videos, film and television and the internet]. This is not the old fashioned Playboy — this is misogynistic, hardcore images where very sophisticated acts are being shown. Rape fantasies, violence against women.

“You don't want any young man to get into trouble because society has shown him so many mixed messages.

“If this is what they're viewing as sex, then all of a sudden that becomes normal to them, so that when they're in a relationship they expect the same behaviour and young women are expecting to perform that way.”

Mrs Puccio added that she “was very impressed with the young men of Somersfield because they were open about what they were feeling” when she met them last week.

“A lot of young men don't want to talk about the fact that when they see an advert, they feel bad about themselves. They don't want to be vulnerable. That's why so many male victims don't come forward.

“Can't be vulnerable, can't show weakness. That's hard for young men.”

Mrs Puccio, who is working on a guidebook for parents about online safety, Blurred Lines, was inspired to start the RAP Project after trying to connect with her own three teenage daughters.

She struggled to find advice on teaching them about online “common sense skills”, safety and “sexting”.

“When I was growing up there was one landline in the house, your parents knew who you were communicating with,” she told The Royal Gazette.

She said social media had “changed our children's perceptions of the world”, in particular the way the way communicate and make friends.

Expert advice: Deana Puccio has warned about the dangers of sharing information online. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published January 30, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated January 29, 2016 at 11:55 pm)

‘Talk to teens’ about social media dangers

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