Friday, May 16, 2008

Social Networking

Today's post is fueled by a headline in the news that I've been following since it hit the media.
I don't know how many of you are familiar with the story of Megan Meier, but here's a quick recap. Megan was a 13 year old girl who was befriended by a boy whom she thought was near her hometown. They chatted on Myspace for about a month before he started sending her mean and hateful messages. One of which stated "the world would be better off without her in it." Shortly after this message, Megan was found hanging in her bedroom closet by her mother and died at the hospital a day later. Fast forward 6 months and the parents of Megan overhear someone talking about the incident and it comes to light that the 'boy' Megan had befriended was actually some girls from school and their Mother(s).
As of yesterday, the mother (who wanted to know what Megan was saying about her daughter) was indicted and will stand charge on 4 counts:
one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress on the girl.
This bothers me on many different levels. I don't know how familiar any of you are with social networking - I am a fan of Myspace and Facebook primarily because it is easier to keep up with friends and family that are scattered around the US. I, however, am not 13 nor do I use this as a means of making friends so it has a different affect on me than in the case in question. I can remember (it wasn't that long ago) being 13 and wanting to be accepted by my peers so I can only empathize with the children who use this as that type of outlet.

Children can be cruel. I think it is hard enough growing up, being a pre-teen/teenager and dealing with social akwardness and your peers much less dealing with a mean/spiteful and sneaky adult. I think this woman, Lori Drew, should face the consiquences of her actions in this situation. She is an adult and she should never have gotten involved in this, much less perpitrated the internet as a teenage boy in hopes of baiting this teenage girl into talking bad about Drew's daughter. Seriously...what would she have done had the girl said something 'ugly' about her daughter?

On a different level, this bothers me because it just shines a light on how much we don't really know about what is going on, on the other end of the computer. As an avid computer person who not only surfs on a regular basis, but also works in the industry and has seen first hand some of the damage that can be done with a computer, it is a bit scary thinking about what the next few generations are up against. We are all aware of internet preditors, people who might not be themselves in hopes of luring kids into unmentionable acts or otherwise. We are trained to look for that type of behavior, to warn our kids of the dangers and to stay alert/be discreet with our personal information. What do we do in instances like this? You know, the kind of instance where the other end of the computer is really someone we know (a neighbor) who just wants to inflict mental harm? How do we avoid or prepare our kids for that?

There was an article about a month ago "Myspace can bring shy kids out of their shell" that addresses the flip side of this coin. Basically this article states that myspace provides a social networking tool that kids can use to gain confidence by finding a group of like minded individuals. The anonymity provided by the use of the internet allows kids to project a more confident image and help them define/understand who they are. Can I see the logic in this arguement, sure. I remember being an awkward teen (back when internet chatting was 'new' and not everyone did it) and creating an online persona where I felt more confident than I did in person. Did this make me more confident in real life, no. However when I finally got away from my very small home town, I was able to create the same type of persona with my new surroundings. It may have helped provide me with the tools I needed to feel confident when I was in a different environment but it did not change my behavior in my previous environment.

I am saddened by all of this. I don't believe there is ever a reason for a young child to die, it's even sadder when they choose to take their own life. With todays technology, we are limited by how much we can do to protect our children however I don't don't believe the adults (mothers/fathers etc) should advocate cruel behavior or participate. As adults we should know better - if nothing else, put yourself in a mothers shoes and think "if this was my child, would I want someone doing it to them?" I sure don't.

What are your thoughts?


Aleta said...

Technology can be a gift, but in the hands of children... a curse.

Children are growing up far too fast in this day and age. Techonology is a culprit of that lack of childhood innocence.

One of my cousins has 3 children. She keeps a tight reign on what they use for the computer, what sites they go to, etc. and I think that should be the standard.

Kel said...

aleta -

I agree with you that parents need to monitor/be aware of what their children are doing on the computer, but in this type of case, the parent didn't know there was another adult behind this type of behavior.

Kids grow up fast and technology can steal some of their innocence if your not careful. Thanks for posting!

Jojo said...

crazy...I as a parent feel completely overwhelmed on how I'm supposed to protect my little girl when she grows up. There are so many malicious people out there, technology is great when used positively but just like "guns don't kill people" it's a PERSON that propels these kinds of negative actions using the technology available. It's a conundrum on what to do - we can't just shut everything down so like Aleta said, monitoring should be mandatory.

Semi-Charmed Wife said...

This is just a horrible, awful situation. I can't believe that a grown adult would do something this petty and cruel to a child.

Semi-Charmed Wife said...

By the way, I just tagged you for a meme!