Photo: Courtesy Of Crime Stoppers Of Houston
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Tweens and teens using social media can encounter cyberbullying, online predators and mental health issues. Join Crime Stoppers of Houston for a movie night on Thursday, July 16, to help keep your children safe online.
The webinar event starts at 6 p.m. and is set to include a screening of the IndieFlix documentary LIKE and a panel discussion with Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston; Kirby Lindley Long, Miss Texas Teen USA 2017 and anti-bullying advocate; and Scilla Andreen, CEO of IndieFlix and executive producer of Angst.
LIKE is an education program that uses film to take a serious look at the effect social media and technology are having on users’ brains and lives.
“We’re excited to hopefully virtually fill the space and get as many kids and teens, tweens and teens over 10 years old with us because we think it’s a really, really, really important conversation,” Mankarious said, since the event is limited to 500 views.
She said looking at the impact of social media is important because of how deeply connected with and engrossed by their smart phones and the tools therein. She said her own children have phones so that they can stay in contact with each other, like if one of them was running late. But on the other side of that, Mankarious said parents should understand they are giving their children a tool that is addictive.
“Well, we’re in an interesting situation in the sense that phones have not just become a part of life. They are a way of life,” Mankarious explained.
The film, she said, features experts that discuss brain chemistry and images of how handling and viewing and interacting on a phone stimulates the brain in ways that mirror drug addiction or feelings of being in love.
Aside from the addictive component, Mankarious said children, tweens and teens are wrapped up in the social aspects: the need to be liked and to like other posts, which can make them vulnerable to cyberbullying and relationships with anyone in the world that may or may not be a criminal. Anyone can pick up a smart phone and engage in a relationship with a young person easily, so there are risks.
Mankarious called social media “devastating” for young people and pointed to a study from the United Kingdom that focused on the relationship between platforms and mental health.
“There are direct correlations with depression, anxiety and even potentially suicidal ideation because especially a young girl, an impressionable girl, who very easily gets sucked into the imagery, the messaging of social media — what her friends are doing, what she’s doing, is it liked, is it not liked — there’s an effect there that’s beyond just the views. It’s the emotional effects of what’s happening,” Mankarious said.
Long is a native Houstonian. Her platform when she became Miss Teen Texas 2017 was all about body image for young girls on social media and teen suicide, which put cyberbullying in the center. She had entered the modeling world at 14 and began receiving negative comments online about her body. By 16, she was obsessed with her weight.
“That’s all I thought about to the point where I was stepping on the scale 10 times a day. I wouldn’t eat more than maybe 1,000 calories. And if I was, you know, above 110 pounds, I would freak out,” Long said. “And so it became like a very unhealthy obsession.”
At 18, Long won her title and gained around 10,000 Instagram followers overnight. Random trolls online would comment that she was too fat or too skinny, that her nose wasn’t right, etc. She realized pictures online aren’t necessarily what is really there due to editing programs and that there are more important things than appearance.
“I became very passionate about telling young girls, you know, it’s not what the outside looks like. It’s all about the inside,” Long said.
During her high school years, Long said there were several suicides in her school. As she watched all that unfold, she learned that social media plays a role: people post the best parts of their lives and not the bad or mundane. Social media can give teens an unrealistic view of what life is because their lives don’t mirror what they see online, Long said.
“I feel like kids fall into depression because they’re not satisfied with their own lives or you know, what they look like. And so they feel like they’re left out; they feel less than. And I feel like that’s where a lot of suicide rates come in, especially in the high school age range.”
Long said she made the decision to stand her ground and answer ugly words with kindness — something she admits is hard to do at 18 — because people that start fake accounts just to cut down someone they don’t know clearly have some issues in their own lives.
“People’s words do not define who you are,” she emphasized.
While Mankarious admits her opinion may be controversial, she said parents should be monitoring their children’s social media accounts, know their passwords and see what they are doing and the people they interact with online. Some parents she talks to view their children and teens’ social media accounts as private like a diary, but she disagrees.
“Social media is an active platform built and run by society that involves strangers and friends and family and a brand and a reputation that sticks with you indefinitely that’s going to affect your schooling and your education and your job in the future,” Mankarious said.
She added that with a phone, should come a serious talk about what should be posted, predatory behavior and cyberbullying. She said a child that is too young to understand all that does not need a phone yet.
To register for the movie night, visit https://tinyurl.com/ybpyjlf4. To view the film’s trailer, visit www.thelikemovie.com. For general information about Crime Stoppers of Houston, visit www.crime-stoppers.org.