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Social Media and the Cyber Youth Crisis Part 1

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It is hardly surprising that the iconic founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, along with a number of other tech CEOs and venture capitalists would strictly control their children’s screen time.The prefrontal cortex of the teenage brain, that regulates behaviour and evaluates the consequences of actions, continues to develop until the mid-20’s.In conjunction, the Striatum, the part of the brain strongly associated with motivation and reward is particularly active in the teenage brain. This combination predisposes teenagers to impulsive behaviour and increased risk-taking, along with a heightened sensitivity to instantaneous rewards. A fact which has been unashamedly exploited by these same CEOs, tech giants and app developers that shelter their own children from the excess use of tablets, smartphones and laptops.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!)

Instant Messaging apps have created intense pressure on teenagers to be online 24/7, instantaneously ready to post, respond, share, comment, and like. The term ‘FOMO’ (Fear of Missing out) refers to the anxiety and stress that can be artificially generated to compel teenagers to be constantly monitoring and responding to posts. This has led to attention deficits and sleep deprivation amongst the very age category that is most in need of consistent sleep patterns. It has also led to a ‘Matrix’-style artificial reality which, for many teenagers, is more important than the physical reality around them. Their online friends and likes become more important than developing real and lasting bonds with family and friends; online recreation and gaming become more important than developing proficiency in a sport as part of a healthy lifestyle, and online conflict is now becoming the primary driver for conflicts played out on the streets, schools and parks.

Digital Natives

Children aged 11 or under have spent their entire life in the digital age. For them interacting with a touch screen was more natural than learning to walk. 54% of 0-2 year olds can swipe a touch screen with it rising to 76% for 3-5 year olds; 44% of 0-2 year olds can open apps with it rising to 75% for 3-5 year olds, and 33% of 0-2 year olds can take photos with it rising to 60% for 3-5 year olds. What is the long term effect on the psychology, character and emotional intelligence of a generation that has spent their entire life in a cyber reality? What is the effect on the self-worth and confidence of our young people when their entire self-image may be based on the number of likes they receive in an instant messaging app?

The essence of our responsibly as parents is to protect the innocence of our children and enable the fitrah (natural disposition inclined to belief in Allāh and morality) to flourish. We are now facing a generation, some of whom have had their entire life online like an open book, constantly posting pictures, updates, and running commentaries on the most intimate parts of their lives. This inevitably takes away inhibitions and removes their sense of hayā’. The concept of privacy and shame is lost as users race against one other to post the most shocking and attention grabbing media even if it be of their own selves. The Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:

“Verily, among the words people obtained from the Prophets are this: If you feel no hayā (shame), then do as you wish.”

Digital Footprint

Many of us have made major mistakes in our youth which we would rather forget about. The beauty of Islām is the unique concept of Tawbah (repentance) which allows the sinful to seek forgiveness, rectify their actions and rejuvenate their lives instead of being paralysed by self-loathing. Now consider how much more damaging these mistakes would be if played out online. Our young people are growing up leaving a permanent digital footprint of their activities which can be exposed years later. Paris Brown was a 17 year old, appointed Kent’s first Youth and Crime Commissioner in 2013. She stepped down before taking up the post because of controversial comments she made on Twitter when she was 14. Prospective employers and educational institutions now routinely check candidates’ online profiles before offering positions.

A far more sinister manifestation of this problem is the intense pressure on young people, especially girls, to post suggestive or nude pictures of themselves online. 60% of teenagers surveyed said they have been asked for sexual images or videos of themselves, 40% of those questioned said they had created a sexual image or video of themselves, 25% said they had sent one to someone else by text, 33% said they had sent it to someone they knew online but had never met, and 15% said they had sent the material to a stranger. These images now become a permanent digital record that can be distributed and ruin a young person’s reputation. Worst still is the criminal element. It is illegal and a serious criminal offence to take, hold or share indecent photos of anyone aged under 18, even if the person who has the image is under 18 themselves. Not only could the person be prosecuted, but they could be required by law to register as a sex offender.

Copyright

The internet has facilitated the easy and free access of media. Many of us pay little attention to infringement of copyright and will happily stream the latest videos for free without a thought to the possible consequences. Downloading a video for free could possibly mean downloading a virus or a Trojan to your device. Often videos are streamed from file sharing sites which connect to your device and can easily transfer viruses. The most common viruses are:

    • Random Access Tool – remote webcam accesssends back live recording to a hacker.
    • Cryptolock – locks all files until a ransom is paid.
    • Keylogger – records key strokes for passwords.

All of these viruses can have devastating effects on your and your family’s life but consider how serious the invasion of privacy would be if a hacker could gain remote access to a webcam in your child’s bedroom.

Pornography

Regrettably, some of the heaviest traffic on the internet is pornography. It is relatively easy to circumvent online filters with proxies and often young people are several steps ahead of the adults trying to regulate their use. There is a misconception that pornography only affects boys. While it is true that boys are for more attracted to physical images of a sexual nature than girls, girls too are frequently accessing pornography due to peer pressure or simple curiosity. In fact, an entire genre of pornography has been developed specifically targeting girls. Low budget erotic novels are available for free download and often appear completely inconspicuous to adults who expect pornography to come in the form of erotic images. These smutty novels are often more shocking than explicit pornographic images, giving detailed descriptions of sexual acts over pages and pages of text. The sexual act scenes are made more appealing to girls by contextualising them in a basic romance story narrative which convinces the girls that what they are reading is not actually pornography but a romantic love story.

Online gaming

It is a strange reality that more boys play FIFA online then play football in real-life. The cyber reality is truly taking over the physical reality. Often to adults these games, which consume hours and hours of young people’s time, can appear like harmless amusement. But are young people just playing games online or developing strong emotional bands with complete strangers? Many of these games have an online community element where players remotely play in teams or against each other. This provides the ideal platform for sexual or ideological predators to gain the trust of young and impressionable minds. The tragic case of Breck Brednar illustrates this risk vividly. Breck was a 14 year old boy who was befriended by Lewis Daines, aged 19, on the popular ‘Battlefield’ and ‘Call of Duty’ game. Breck’s mother became concerned at the control being wielded by the older boy and reported him to the police. Despite Lewis Daines being on two national police databases the police took no further action believing that online grooming was a phenomena that only affected girls. The two boys moved their communication to a private messaging app and eventually Breck was lured to the older boy’s house where he was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death.

to be continued…..

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