Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Bebo as suicide risk?

The Today Programme had a piece about how some kids are arranging suicides online - an 'internet suicide cult'. (Listen to the first three minutes of the 8.30 section).

It refers to the 7 young people who have recently committed suicide in Bridge End, Wales. They suggested that it is websites that seems to be encouraging the spate of suicides. This is obviously a very serious business. And for some, BEBO gets the blame.

The MP interviewed suggested that young people 'lose reality' when they are online. The MP also said that she wished that young people realised that they could talk to 'real people' who could help them when they are stressed. (Mind you,closer reading of the newsreports shows that most of these people also knew each other in face to face contexts too.)

The Sun reported in this lascivious way. The Telegraph also ran this on the story. And they let readers leave comments. One person writes:

Posted by Steve (UK) on January 23, 2008 2:47 AM Report
this comment

It seems that many kids find it easier to talk to a computer
than to their parents. It is no longer sufficient for parents to leave their
adolescent kids to find their own way in life, hoping that they will eventually
turn out like themselves. Kids are being enticed by role models in the media
(including "cool" aliases on the Internet).

And there is also this vile remark:

Posted by K.Evans on January 23, 2008 1:43 PMReport
this comment

"I don't know much about South Wales, but here in New South
Wales, Australia, my kids are too busy surfing, climbing, exploring, camping and
having FUN to be sitting, gibbering over some Internet site." Well, there's your
big difference! This is England and all such activities were banned years ago by
the government in case someone bumps their head and empties the local authority
purse in compensation payments. The streets are therefore silent regards happy
playing children, all victims of the 'no ball games here' culture. Instead we
have bored, badly parented gutter snipes drowning their empty, hopeless lives
with cheap alcohol and the other end of the spectrum we have those whose best
friend is the social networking site. Well at least they're not out on the
street either drinking, battering law abiding citizens or getting knifed eh!

Aside from the sweeping statements about a whole nation (do we call it racist?) there is also the assumption that those who go online are lazy, 'badly parented' and so on. Hmm. Interesting stuff - they used to say that about people who watched TV, or before that, read popular culture novels etc. (Actually am glad that K.Evans keeps offline in the main - although what is s/he doing putting comments on virtual spaces?)

The Today programme mentions that there are 'memorial websites' and that young
people are wanting to have a site dedicated to them, when they commit suicide. I
found what they were talking about here. And here is one that has been set
for one of the teens who committed suicide in Bridge End. The argument is
that the teens are attracted to the idea of having such sites. They like the idea of a memorial.

It did not take me long to find weird stuff on Google by using key words 'suicide' and Bebo' - and certainly I think this blog is somewhat creepy.

Aaaanyway ... what do I think? I can only comment in terms of the Internet, rather than say something about teenagers' suicidal tendencies. In general it remains the case that teenagers' mostly interact with people they already know from face to face (f2f) situations. There is a smaller group who sometimes connect with some people who they don't already know from f2f situations; an even smaller group who exclusively talk to people who they only met and know from online spaces. So usually they are not confused by the virtual and the real. This makes me think that those who do get involved in this stuff, are already a bit 'lost' and impressionable.

Secondly, and most importantly, while I think that the Internet is GREAT and a wonderful opportunity in so many ways, it is definitely the case that parents and teachers need to understand what their kids are doing and guide them. Just as we give guidance to kids when they go out on their own, so too we need to guide them in the online spaces they go to. Many parents and teachers don't understand about how the Internet works and they need to know so they can guide their kids. BEBO and other social networking sites have, frankly, enriched the lives of far more people than they have hurt and I think we have to be very careful about what we say about popular cultural phenomena - an easy way to alienate the young is to tell them what they are doing is bad, dangerous and wrong.

So. The Internet is not about to go away. It is going to increase its presence in our lives. So we all need to learn how to read texts; how to protect ourselves and be aware of how persuasive/seductive some texts/ online cultures can be. This is the role of Education and Educators. Like me.


Mary Plain said...

right on, Dr Joolz. V helpful post as ever- especially as I have to begin to plan a talk on mew media etc etc for our diocesan clergy conference in April!

Anonymous said...

Bravo DrJ!

As a teacher I must admit that many adults working in schools are just as naive as many of the parents of our students in regards to the Internet. It makes the job increasingly difficult to correct all those misconceptions about these networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and indeed the Inetrnet as a whole.

As a teacher I try my hardest to encourage parents to play a more active role in the child's internet use, particularly trying to convince them that it is not something necessarily to be afraid of.

I'm going to send you a link to my latest thing at school that I am trialling - an online classroom. I'd like to show you two things in particular: the note to parents on the front page, and how I am trying to integrate resources from websites such as YouTube into a resourceful existence. Let me know what you think!

DrJoolz said...

Oh thanks Maryplain glad you think this is OK. I don't take these things lightly - in the past I was a bit vlase and dismissive of this kind of thing, but have become more circumspect now.
I am really interested in what you are doing Sparc and will zip off to look at your latest things now. It's so great for your kids that you are doing this stuff ...

DrJoolz said...

sorry when I say vlase, I mean blase. !!!

Anonymous said...

No hope, no future and no way of stopping Britain falling into a decaying third world country. The guy from Oz got it right, what sort of life is there here????
Adults bury their head in the sand while their kids look forward to a bleak future, ruined counrty and global warming..... How long before a "civil holy war"??? It's all rubbish!!

Ophira said...

Interesting to know.