“I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away”
– U2, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”
Last week, on Tuesday, September 10th, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year old girl in Florida, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement silo. Her tragic death was the ninth suicide associated with the ask.fm website, and the youngest one so far.
On September 1st, I wrote a blog post titled “The Popular Kids’ Website that is 100x Worse than Facebook for your Kids“. This explains ask.fm, and encourages parents to educate themselves on this website. I also wrote at that time that ask.fm had been associated with five suicides. I was wrong – it was eight at that time, and now nine.
Since my earlier post, I’ve realized that this topic is more complicated than I earlier thought due to the following reasons:
- While my earlier post focused on websites via computers, another source of cyber-bullying is via messaging on cell phones
- It is challenging to keep up with which websites tweens and teens are using these days. My earlier blog post was written to make parents aware of ask.fm as a site to be aware of in addition to Facebook, Twitter, etc. But in Rebecca’s case, in addition to ask.fm, new applications were used including Instagram, Kik, and Voxer, the last two being ‘messaging’ applications for smartphones
- Even if parents take certain steps, it is not easy to completely block social media. In Rebecca’s case, after initial concerns, her mother had shut down her Facebook page, taken her cell phone away, and changed her cell phone number.
This is a complicated topic with regards to what parents can and should do to protect their children. I would share two thoughts for consideration:
- As I mentioned above, parents should educate themselves on these websites. It takes about two minutes to set up an ask.fm account, and another two minutes to search on this site to understand how it works, and the potential dangers for children. There are also a lot of good articles on this topic – I’ve included some below.
- Talk with your children openly about these types of sites, these recent incidents, and cyber-safety guidelines in general. Children should also be aware of the reach of the virtual world – in Rebecca’s case, she had been physically moved to another school after facing bullying, but her tormentors continued to bully her virtually despite her physically having changed schools.
Facebook and Twitter are nothing compared to ask.fm with regards to the level of danger and risk for children. Please educate yourself on this site, and talk openly with your children about this topic and about cyber-safety in general.