Earlier this month, screenshots of obscene comments on an Instagram group called ‘Bois Locker Room’ went viral, causing many parents of adolescents to worry about their kids’ secret lives on social media. ET Panache spoke to a few child psychologists to understand the social fallout from the incident and how parents should be approaching conversations with their teenagers.
“Starting off, there is no one to blame. You can’t really blame the parents; there should be no fingerpointing at the children or at schools,” said Dr. Zirak Marker, Sr. Psychiatrist and advisor at Mpower – The Centre. “If you look at it, all three stakeholders – the parents, the kids, and the schools – are in a way responsible. To label just the kids or blame them is wrong.”
Instead, Dr. Marker points to a combination of snowplowing parenting (where parents seek to remove all obstacles from their child’s path), increased use of social media, and lack of mental health education at schools.
“This snowplowing parenting technique results in kids, especially teenagers not knowing what facing consequences are. When you don’t allow a kid to struggle or remove all the obstacles from their path, they are not learning independent thinking skills,” he explained. “These teenagers are then more prone to peer pressure and conformity because they want to desperately fit in. They have poorer judgment and unhealthy coping mechanisms because they haven’t learned how.”
Dr. Marker believes technology has also added to the problem. “Kids are sitting in front of the screen, checking messages on WhatsApp, watching YouTube videos. We have seen a high increase in gaming, in activities that lead to sexual harassment, body-shaming, comments on social media. All behaviors that come with being online for such large quantums of time.” However, according to experts, restricting social media use is not the solution.
“We’re a growing digitally connected world. Parents can’t stop their kids from getting social media profiles or having social media friends. What they can do at this point in time is just keep educating their kids on what’s okay and what’s not okay,” said clinical psychologist, Priyanka Kartari. “The way parents would educate their kids about playground bullying, they should teach them about online bullying.”
Dr. Marker agrees. “I’m not expecting parents to pry away the phone or ask for their kid’s passwords but I feel that parents need to be a voice (of conscience) in a child’s head.” He believes that instead of reacting when there is a problem, parents should start having the difficult conversations with their child (like sex education) from an early age.
“Sex education is not just a four-letter word. It involves so much more, things like compassion and tolerance of sexuality. When they’re slightly older, who’s talking to our kids about consent, gender equality, respect of women, tolerance and acceptance, telling them what are the attitudes that amount to sexual harassment? If we are asked these questions we have no answers. We don’t know what boundaries are. Parents need to start having these conversations with their kids from an early stage to teach them the right values and safeguard them from any abuse.”
Befriend Your Kids
In addition to talking to them, Kartari believes parents should be friends with their children on their social media profiles so that they’re aware of what’s happening with their children online. “As long as parents have an open dialogue with their kids, I don’t see any reason why kids would hesitate to have their parents on their profile. There are a lot of kids whose parents are on all of their profiles because those parents encourage an open dialogue with their kids. They talk to them about matters of sex, about boyfriends and girlfriends, about sexuality. And if you bring in these conversations in a healthier way earlier on, you create a safe space for them to share their experiences.”
Asked about adolescents who may not be comfortable with their parents viewing their social media accounts, Kartari said, “I think it’s the parent’s responsibility to make their kids comfortable with this, not the kid’s. Kids don’t have the vocabulary or they may not know how to sit down and talk to their parents about sexuality. So parents have to start initiating it.”
“They could watch a show with their kids and engage in conversation about the things they may see, understand their kid’s opinions and share that they actually come from a non-biased perspective too. If parents are of the mindset that if I don’t talk to my kid, he’s not going to do it or if I talk to them, it might encourage them, that’s not going to help your kids. It’s not going to help your relationship with your child.”