The UK’s top police officer has blamed social media for normalising violence and leading more children to commit stabbings and murders. Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick told the Times social media sites “rev people up” and make street violence “more likely”. Fatal stabbings in England and Wales are at their highest levels since 2011.
What can parents do about social media leading children to violence?
Parents can remind the children and young people in your care that…
- Smartphones are everywhere. It is really easy for someone to take a photo or video of a young person involved in something spontaneous like a fight and share it with others online. This can have a permanent effect on their online and offline reputation. How would the video or image be viewed by a future employer or university recruiter?
- Drama between friends can seem so important at the time, but in a few weeks, they’ll look back and won’t remember why they were so concerned about it.
- If they hear plans of a fight, or something similar, spreading across their social media feeds, they should let an adult know about it. They won’t get into any trouble.
- It can be easy to get irate and self-righteous on social media and become caught up in an unhealthy group mentality. It could be because of someone’s comment that they found offensive, or to fight for a collective cause. But things aren’t always as they seem – often comments only seem offensive after being taken out of context, for example.
- When you’re part of a group, it’s easy to join sides and become aggressive. Advise your child that things can quickly escalate and move into the territory of group attacking or bullying.
- Young people should be encouraged to think before they post on social media, and be reminded that silly comments they’ll probably regret in the future can have a permanent effect on their online reputation.
What If your child has been involved?
- If you find out your child has been involved in a fight, the first thing you’ll worry about is whether they’re physically OK. After you’ve established that, you’ll need to have a serious conversation with them about why they got into a fight. Try not to seem too accusatory, or upset, as this may prevent them from opening up to you. As always, making sure all lines of communication are kept open is a priority with this kind of issue.
- If there is footage of your child in a fight – whether they’re the perpetrator, or the one being targeted – it isn’t something you want online for other people to see. Find out who posted the content, and ask them to take it down. If the incident is linked to school, they can help you do this. If the person who posted the content is unknown, contact the social media platform to ask them to take it down. Find out how here (link is external).
- It may be that you can’t control the spread of the footage. If that is the case, support your child. As with all bad experiences, there are lessons to be learnt. Make a plan together of how they will avoid situations like this in the future. Good plans usually focus on getting rid of negative influences and avoiding high risk situations. Discuss with them how they can spend more time on positive friendships and activities.
- If your child sees this sort of content on social media and tells you about it, remind them that this sort of violence is never acceptable, even if it is a joke or prank and the chances are that somebody has got hurt. Encourage them to always report the content to their school, as well as the social media network they’re using. Instagram in particular has a very strong stance against bullying.
- Both resorting to physical aggression as a way of dealing with a problem, or fighting just for the ‘fun’ of it, may point to a deeper emotional issue. You may want to ask them if there’s anything else in their lives that’s worrying them. Remind them that it’s very important they find other ways of dealing with problems, such as communication, negotiation and compromise, as carrying this violent behaviour into adulthood could get them into serious trouble in the future.
You may feel your child needs professional help with anger or other problems. Young Minds has some good advice (link is external) on anger, aggression and violence in young people and what parents can do to help their children.