Children and Ethics when using SMS and Facebook

Over‘s existing years I have had the pleasure to contribute with various articles on how we train children in our residential placements to cope with the art of everyday life. Now looking into the rear-view mirror I have to admit how very difficult it can be to foresee which sort of impact the fast developing technology has on children from the very early childhood.”

I wrote the lines above in 2008. At this time no one could foresee how quickly – and in many cases how unfortunately – young people would become involved in very serious problems, among others, mobbing and harassing each other. Today many children use the SMS and Facebook to harass any member of a gang or peer group who happens not being present at the time. Rumours and claims are spread about any innocent peer and even addressed to the concerned person, resulting in much unhappiness and even the loss of wanting to live.

Recently I spent a weekend with a teenage girl, who actually wanted to stay at home in fear that she might miss any spontaneous Saturday party. She and I had a very good day together with a full teenage programme in Copenhagen. Make-up artist advice, shopping and lunch (among other things) were on the programme, before we returned home to spend Saturday evening with a good meal and a film in the company of her smaller brother and grandpa. She was happy and expressed how wonderful the day had been.

Long ago I learned to cope with the teenage girls having their mobiles glued to the hands. I even learned that they arrive with their laptops, that they consulted their laptop to see if any person was wanting to inform them about more or less important matters. My husband and I find that the young ones – and even their parents – become deeply involved in a superficial sort of friendships all over the world. We are aware that we have given away an easy way to find old friends by not being on Facebook.

After dinner this Saturday, my granddaughter went into her room. I gave her fifteen minutes to “do her office work” as I call her Facebook control. I sat with my husband and grandson to see a film we had decided to see together. An hour passed without our granddaughter appearing. I went to her room; she was on the phone. Another half hour passed without her appearing. Again I went to her room. She was still on the phone. I am from a time where one shows respect for privacy, so I closed the door once again and returned to husband and grandson. Then our phone rang; it was our daughter who right away scold me for not knowing that my granddaughter was all in tears and unhappy.

My granddaughter and I spent the rest of that Saturday evening talking about the SMS that caused all her great unhappiness. Her so-called friends were gathered as they usually were. They obviously felt bored. Anyhow she knew exactly the way it worked. She was not there and therefore she was the one to bully.

She then told me in which terms the friends exchanged sentences. I found it hard to believe. Young people from a small school way out in the countryside were using words about each other that would be regarded as criminal in Sweden and would result in social sanctions for the pupils.

“Facebook is a social utility and network to get in touch with friends and others”, pops up when you write “Facebook” on Google.

The accusations of our granddaughter on the SMS were so terrible that she said she did not want to live. This evening I got an insight into present-day teenage life which I would not want any grandparents to experience. It does not help to tell a teenage girl that her friends are no good, if they are the class mates she has had for years and she is stuck in a small society in the countryside. The fear she expressed when I said her friends had behaved in a criminal way accusing her, the way they did, was unbearable. As an adult I felt helpless. In spite of this we managed to have a long talk which I believe both of us will always remember.

Afterwards I find there are many elements causing such an incident:

  • Teenagers who are bored and without good leisure interests like sport.
  • Teenagers being addicted to mobiles and computers.
  • Teenagers being used to a language where they do not understand the hurtful provocation implicated in the words they use.
  • Teenagers who believe that the terms they become familiar with through films are normal communication language and therefore address family and friends the same way, with no understanding of the disrespect they are showing through their language.

When later in the evening I talked with my daughter, I said that I thought my granddaughter ought not to have access to any mobile or internet connection for a while, as she herself had expressed that she had a compulsion to check if anyone had written anything about her, which she had to stop here and now, before it escalated.

However, I find many young ones become very addicted to SMS and Facebook, and I am aware that they inherit this addiction from friends and parents. “Facebook is a social utility and network to get in touch with friends and others”. I wonder if parents or teachers look the word “Facebook” up on Google and have a talk with their child afterwards about the use of this facility. Do parents have a talk with his their child when they buy “Free SMS” for their child?

The tendencies are worrying because we are facing a time where many persons are not fully present in the classroom, at the dinner table etc. because the mobile tells them with a sound that a message has come in. We have to talk about ethics concerning the use of the media surrounding us. We have to keep in mind that the media is far from a final development. Hackers can hack into secret matters and publish them. Which attitude are we to have? Can we decide over any citizen in a democratic world? I am sure we are not able to stop the development, but parents and teachers face a grave responsibility if they do not put ethic on the agenda:

  • How do we treat each other.
  • The importance of behaving towards others as you want them to behave towards you.
  • Showing respect towards the persons surrounding you.
  • Respecting privacy.
  • Respecting laws and common decisions.

How can a government function together with diplomacy if they are not able to keep certain opinions among themselves? If the world consisted of responsible nations, governments and inhabitants, we would have no problems, but the latter is not the case, we live in a multi-faceted world, which struggles to get along. This is the overall reality our young ones are facing.

  • We have to educate them not just to select, but just as well to deselect as part of their life.
  • We have to show our norms and ethics clearly to them, “good and bad, right and wrong”, and give them all our love and affection, that they grow up knowing their worth and importance as human beings.
  • We have to stop any attempt of bad language right at the beginning.

In short we have to be clear in our upbringing, education and love for our own children, that they meet life with a solid foundation.

Vibeke Lasson

Child Care Consultant

Mikkelborg Park 25,

DK-2970 Hoersholm

T: 33 79 37 47 – e-mail: [email protected]

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