Last week I wrote a FB post about this phone app that is “burning up” on social media—it is called BurnBook and it is based on the “Burn book” that was in the movie “Mean Girls.” If you have never seen “Mean Girls”—you really don’t need to—the title says it all—a group of mean (really evil) girls at a high school doing things mean girls do—trashing others’ reputations, gossiping, partying, and being utterly malicious in many ways. They create a “burn book” with names and pictures of girls at their high school with horrible commentary about each girl. I remember growing up we had something called “slam books” where you had names of girls and you wrote comments, but in my group of friends, most of the comments were kind and superficial: “You are so sweet”, etc…..but even the name “slam book” showed the intended purpose of such nefarious material. Today, with social media rampant, the creators of the Burn Book app have taken things to a new level of ugliness. Created to be “anonymous”—the Burn Book allows teens to log on with simply the name of their school and then have full first amendment rights to make any derogatory comment they want about the school or kids at the school. This quickly turned into kids cyber-bullying, posting nude pictures of themselves or others, threatening school authorities, belittling and demoralizing kids who have “special needs” and so much more. It seems that when given the option of being “anonymous”, kids go hog wild and throw out all morals out the window (note—if they even have a set of morals in the first place).
When this app blew up in our area last week, we received numerous emails from our school administration and teachers, and then our superintendent sent out a You-tube video and email to parents imploring them to talk with their students about this. When I talked with my boys, they knew about it and heard what terrible things were going around, and said that almost all their teachers were talking to the classes about this negative and hurtful behavior. It made the nightly news, and I found out that other school districts were also addressing the issue. The creator of Burn Book was contacted and he commented on the news saying that no one is truly “anonymous” and that it is stated in the app’s user guidelines that no “illegal” activity can occur and if it does, that consequences would occur. That is just swell. Let’s create an app that encourages kids to throw all caution to the wind and under the veil of anonymity, say whatever the heck they want to whoever they want to target, and let’s just hope that people will be kind to one another. Really? Now obviously we can’t shut this thing down due to the first amendment and all, but it is just another example of how teens these days are being swept into the “next gen communication”—texting, snap chats, “AskFM”—another site that is just like Burn Book, Instagram, and Twitter. They don’t talk face to face-- they text, send pictures, send anonymous (aka cowardly) comments, and everything can be summed up in a simple “tweet.” This is the way of this generation. They ask each other out, they fight, they break up, they plan events, they send love messages—all without talking face to face. We are raising a generation that doesn’t know how to communicate with words, tone, body language and eye contact. It is scary and appalling…..and we parents need to step in and create change.
I am thankful that my school district took action to talk to parents about this because I know that many parents are completely ignorant as to what is going on out there. I know it is hard to talk to a teen—but we have to do it. We have to create open and trusting dialogues with our teens—and it isn’t easy. But it is absolutely necessary. From a young age we taught our boys to introduce themselves to new people, look them in the eye, and shake hands. We taught them to say please and thank you and you’re welcome. We taught them to respect adults, and girls, and all people of all races, religions, and walks of life. We taught them to stand up for those kids who weren’t treated well by others. We taught them about sportsmanship and how to have dignity in defeat. We taught them to treat their teachers with respect and to behave in class. Now that they are 14 and 17, we keep talking and sometimes it is hard. Sometimes we compete with the ping of a new text message coming in or a snap chat picture coming through and we have to tell them to put their phones away when we are having a conversation. No phones at the dinner table, no phones after ten pm. Sometimes we get a grunt or a sassy remark when we ask a question, and we have to pull in the reins and tell them that is unacceptable. When you talk to your parents, you sit down and look us in the eyes. We ask them about school, homework, sports, friends, etc. When our older son goes out at night, he tells us where he is going, who he is with, and he has to text or call us if he changes locations. Now we know our kids don’t tell us everything, but we have tried to foster a warm, non judgmental environment for our boys to open up to us. We want home conversations to be safe and transparent. And they aren’t always that way—sometimes we have tough days; some days it is a struggle to get even a word out of our boys. But we always open the conversation and we talk about what is on the news, in the community, and at school. We teach our boys to have conversations that aren’t texts, but real face to face conversation, with give and take, difference of opinion, and openness to listening and sharing.
Social media isn’t going away….and apps that give teens some kind of immoral freedom will be out there. We as parents need to be up on these things, be aware, and be in conversation with our kids. I find it interesting that the same week the Burnbook app went rampant in our city, we had five school lock downs in ONE day. Different districts across the city—one school a boy brought a gun to school and threatened the school, and all other schools had “anonymous” email bomb threats. Three of these schools were middle schools. Seriously, teens these days are so de-socialized BECAUSE of social media (ironic I know), that they think they can gain attention and popularity through these crazy threats and antics. We are seeing a generation that hides behind masks of anonymity and get puffed up with notions of grandeur with things they can get away with on social media. It is scary, plain and simple. If we as parents, along with our schools and communities, take the reins from this through “real communication”—sitting down and talking face to face, we may see a difference. But it is going to take a lot of parents, and a lot of change to see this happen. It starts at my home, with me and my husband and our kids, and it starts in your home, with you and yours. Do not be silent—have those conversations with your kids, and it is never too early. Be aware of what is going on—don’t be ignorant. Just because we are older doesn’t mean we shouldn’t know what are kids are seeing and doing. It is important that we take charge of our kids. We have been given the responsibility as parents and we need to step up to the plate.