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It's Our Turn - A few simple words can quickly change lives

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By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the most recent “social media posting gone bad” story.

This time it’s a 17-year-old boy and a 28-year-old physical education teacher from Rogers whose lives changed in a second with two simple words.

An anonymous tweet was posted online suggesting that the boy was having an inappropriate relationship with this teacher. The boy replied, “Actually, yes,” even though there was no relationship between the two.

The exchange was reported to officials and the boy was suspended from school, possibly for two months, and a heated debate is now under way about what disciplinary action, if any, is appropriate in this case.

Regardless of the outcome, lives have already been changed. This isn’t something that will just go away and be forgotten in a few days. It’s going to have a lasting impact on both of those lives.

Social media ranks right up there with drugs and alcohol in regards to having the potential to ruin a young person’s life.

Studies show that teen brains simply aren’t “in sync” yet, which basically leaves them incapable of

always making “wise” choices. The part of the brain that controls responses to rewarding experiences and emotion doesn’t mature at the same time as the part of the brain that controls rational, logical thinking and self control.

Early in adolescence, the first part of the brain is active and stimulated, increasing a teen’s sensitivity to rewards. The maturing of the part that governs self-control is slower and more gradual, and is not actually complete until the mid 20s.

So, teenagers have a high yearning for rewards and gratification, but still haven’t developed their impulse control. That’s where the risky behavior comes in.

Social media makes it much easier for teens – or anybody – to put themselves out there in the hopes of getting noticed and garnering some of that much sought gratification. Unfortunately, the less mature part of the brain isn’t speaking up and telling them that this may not be a good idea.

Social media gives people of all ages a sense of empowerment, and allows them to hide behind the keyboard. It’s much easier to post things online than it is to say them face-to-face. Whether the post is done anonymously or not, people tend to feel protected by the buffer created by social media platforms.

Then they find out the hard way, like the boy from Rogers, that what seemed funny one minute can turn into something really ugly the next minute. And by then, it’s too late to take it back. It’s like making the choice to drink alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car. After the accident that seriously injured or killed someone, your brain catches up and tells you it wasn’t such a good idea. But it’s too late.

Social media is no different. Once something’s out there in cyber space, it isn’t going away.

The Internet is not a toy, but rather a “power tool” that is capable of many wonderful things...and many terrible things. Two words can literally change a life, and sadly, it isn’t always just the life of the poster that is affected, as in the case of the Rogers’ teacher.

Adults can argue that all it takes is “common sense.” But studies have proven that teen brains haven’t developed this common sense yet.

So in the meantime, parent your kids not only about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but also about the dangers of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Friendster, MyLife, Google +, hi5, and all the other social media platforms that you haven’t even heard of that your kids are probably using.

They need to be told that one small post can ruin their life. Tell them again, and again, and again.

• • •

“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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