“If you don’t want to be part of the club then that’s fine. You don’t need to do it, but this is you’re only chance.”
I rubbed my sweaty palms against my jumper and glanced anxiously at the door of the gym changing room. It was fifth grade and some of us more “fortunate” girls had started to wear training bras, while our peers were still going au naturel under their uniform polos. In order to prove our claims of bra-hood, one girl had concocted a plan. We snuck into the changing room and planned to count to three, quickly lift up our shirts, and then be forever united by our shared experience in womanhood.
Ignoring the nagging voice of reason in my head, I threw caution to the wind and quickly raised my shirt when the time came.
Eleven years later I can still remember that afternoon. But when I texted another member of the ‘Bra Circle,’ she had no memory of the event. While it had left a permanent stain on my own conscience, there was no record of that day anywhere beyond my memory.
However in today’s world of social media, this age-appropriate expression of curiosity could have a very different twist. Ten years after my bra bonding, my younger sister’s 5th grade friend group became entangled in a similar situation. The issues arose from an app called Musical.ly. First appearing in 2014, an article in Business Insider called it the “most popular app you’ve never heard of…unless you live with teenagers.”
Musical.ly has a similar interface to Instagram but the main feature is to post videos of oneself lipsyncing or dancing to popular songs. The app seems innocent enough and parents might think of it as the PG version of snapchat. However, when Musical.ly introduced a new direct.ly feature, which allows users to send messages or photos to one another, many parents were unaware.
When hormones mixed with the sense of privacy direct.ly offered, it wasn’t too long until some girls responded to boys’ requests for suggestive photos. The school notified parents and used the situation as a learning experience, but the episode left a more permanent mark than my own exploration.
A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that each year more children and teens are logging on to the world of social media. The AAP cautions caregivers to note that young adults often lack the self-regulation required to navigate the online world. While the Internet can offer countless learning opportunities, it can also open the door to “bullying, privacy issues, and sexting.”
The study also found that 20% of teens admit to sending nude or semi-nude photos of themselves online. Experimentation and curiosity is natural, but the Internet never forgets and the new forms of social media make it easier to make longer-lasting mistakes. My story only lives on in my memory, but children today are often not as lucky.
Though bullying is far from new, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found that teens who are both cyberbullied and bullied in school had the highest reported level of distress among all bullying victims studied.
However, social media and the Internet are not the enemy. Alongside the Musical.ly incident, the students were using those very same iPads to work collaboratively on GoogleDocs and make Quizlet notecards. The key to educating children on digital literacy and safety is to make sure parents are fully aware of how many risks are inside each palm-size iPhone.
A report by the National Cyber Security Alliance noted a “digital discrepancy” between how teens actually interact online and how parents believe they act. Children who do not have a phone plan can still have an iTouch or iPad with Musical.ly, and many other apps, installed. Long gone are the days when children use the family cord phone in the kitchen to talk with friends. Luckily, resources to help families are available, such as this site that analyzes the safety of various apps and helps parents customize app settings.