Teens & #Social Media, The #Blurred Line

“Certainly it’s happened here but throughout the country, throughout our state, in other places nearby too,” said Traverse City Area Public Schools superintendent Paul Soma.

It’s a problem we have been facing for years, threatening messages causing disruption and potential danger to everyone involved.

And while the way these threats are made have changed over the years, from notes passed around from student to student or something written on bathroom stalls, to now using technology.

The severity and concern of the problem has remained the same.

In a special report, 9&10’s Whitney Amann talks to experts about why teens are doing this and explains how these threats not only affect students right now but potentially long term.

“Schools across the nation including right here in Michigan, sent into lockdown because of threats made by texts and social media.”

“A concerning social media post resulted in Grand Traverse County deputies showing up to a Traverse City school early Tuesday morning.”

School threats…and several of them recently in Northern Michigan.

Even when they turn out to be nothing, they have to be taken seriously every time.

“Our first judgment always is to take every situation at the utmost serious level,” said Soma. “Some people would look at that and say aw that was obviously a prank, or obviously a joke, we don’t look at it that way, we can’t look at it that way and we don’t.”

Just this year, TCAPS has had to send a letter home to parents but that isn’t the only thing they do when they see something concerning.

“We have the police involved from the very beginning and they make the determination whether there’s an actual threat or if we need to heighten our level of security or whatever, we do that immediately,” said Soma.

The punishment starts at the school with a suspension or being expelled but could lead to criminal charges.

“Their consequences are far reaching, it not only effects them, the school district, the entire community, the teachers, the staff and it really impacts their future,” said MSP Trooper David Prichard. “It’s very far reaching, beyond your little neighborhood. Before you hit send, you gotta really think long and hard about what you’re going to do.”

But the real and most important question is, why is this happening?

“Their brains are still under construction,” said Tim Meagher, limited Licensed Psychologist at the Pine Rest Traverse City Clinic. “They don’t think about consequences, they’re prone to be impulsive, their judgment is not fully developed so they are more prone to say things and do things that can get themselves and others in trouble.”

There is no doubt that there are benefits to phones and social media but without even trying, messages typed on a phone can cause can cause disruptions and potential danger.

“I think it’s really irresponsible and they think that they’re comfortable enough with people seeing it but you never know how the other people are taking it in,” said Grace Hawley, 8th grader at West Middle School.

“How it affects more than one person,” said Stephanie Schichtel, 8th grader at West Middle School. “Not only them, not only their friends but their friends could show somebody else and it could start something that they didn’t want to be started.”

“It’s out there forever, it could impact you for the rest of your life if you just send one stupid thing,” said Ben Schollett, 8th grader at West Middle School.

Experts say that teen’s brains need stimulation, but they need to take healthy risks.

It all comes down to everyone working together to fix the problem it has become.

“Words have meaning and when you post something, it has a meaning,” said Meagher.

“Use that social media and technology for what it’s for and that’s for education,” said Prichard. “You can have fun with it, you can explore and learn different things but remember that it’s a tool and you have to use it properly and parents need to be aware of what you’re kids are doing online.”

“Parents have a role to play here, work with your child, let them know that there are consequences for actions,” said Soma. “The bottom line is, it’s gotta be a team approach; the school district in conjunction with parents.”

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