Dark side of social media

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:19 PM

A trusted teenage girl finds herself home alone on the weekend.

A hash tag message (#partyatjanedoes) goes out on Twitter to a few friends, and it’s only a matter of time before there’s pictures and posts on Facebook. Everybody is having a great time and they are tweeting their friends to come and join them.

Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Gerencer said the girl’s parents didn’t believe their daughter would do such a thing until he showed them the Facebook pictures from the party at their home.

Gerencer is Grand Haven High School’s resource officer, and social media is often his friend.

“For investigative purposes, it’s awesome,” he said. “Kids put way too much info on there,” as he showed pictures of alcohol and drugs posted on Twitter.

Gerencer was part of a panel of four people who addressed social media issues during a workshop for parents at the Grand Haven Community Center on Monday evening. Also participating were Spring Lake High School's resource officer, Deputy Sara Fillman; Cindy Spielmaker of Ottawa County Circuit Court Treatment Services; and Leigh Moerdyke, program director of Pathways, MI.

Ten parents attended the eye-opening session that covered a variety of the programs being used by teens, how the conflicts online can affect a child’s mental health and suggestions on what to do to keep ahead of the game.

Most commonly known social media uses are texting, Facebook and Twitter, Fillman said. But then there’s also Snapchat, Google Voice, Cover Text, Armor Text and Tiger Text.

Fillman, who has five daughters at home, said she keeps up on things by having regular conversations with the girls and by randomly picking up their smartphones to see what they are using. Then she "Googles" information on the programs.

For instance, Snapchat is a program in which you take a picture, send it to a friend and it disappears after 10 seconds. Fillman said although many people use this to trade fun pictures of themselves, this program is also used for sexting, or sharing pornographic images.

“It’s for sending things you don’t want anybody to see,” the deputy said.

What people don’t realize is that you can still take a screen shot while it’s on your phone. That screen shot can then be posted and shared by anyone, Fillman said.

Sharing is a big issue with social media, Spielmaker said. The psychologist said she's dealt with a lot of teens, primarily girls, who have shared information on a site called Tumblr. This site seems to be where everyone posts about "doom and gloom," she said.

The problem is, you talk about cutting yourself to three of your friends, and one of them shares that with five of her friends. It snowballs from there, and suddenly everyone at school knows you’ve been cutting yourself.

Parents can learn more about social media issues at pathwaysmi.org or e-mail to Jodi Glass at jglass@pathwaysmi.org.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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