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Modern Parenthood

Bullying and suicide: Misinformation and hyperbole link them

A teen's fake Facebook page about a child who committed suicide as a victim of bullying raises the need for digital literacy to separate fact from fiction. Facebook isn't a context – life is the context for Facebook.

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Here’s how the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention put it: "Bully" is an example of “an increasingly pervasive media narrative that portrays youth suicide as a normative and rational response to being bullied. In addition to misinforming the public, there is considerable evidence that such narratives can spark imitative behavior in vulnerable individuals, a phenomenon referred to as suicide contagion.”

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Guest Blogger

Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.

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As a society, we must not create an echo chamber of dangerous messaging, especially where suicide is concerned. Jessica’s video represents the echo.

Adults need a ‘filter,’ too

Another important takeaway from this story is how much more intelligently we’ll be able to work with young people if we don’t take what we see in their online communication and expression at face value or in a vacuum. There’s usually offline context to what happens online – it’s embedded in everyday life, and for young people, school life, sociality, and relationships.

Facebook isn’t a context, really; life is the context for what happens in Facebook. Jessica’s online video and fake Facebook profile were for a school assignment.

“Because of the digital revolution, we each need to develop better filters, screens and BS detectors to sort through the information blizzard of daily life,” writes author, speaker and digital-age consultant Don Tapscott in Part 3 of his “Living Out Loud” series at HuffingtonPost.com.

So we don’t need just to teach our kids to develop those filters, but ourselves as well. And we’re applying that filter to a much broader range of content. Our children are learning to apply it to their peers’ social content in whatever media (as are their peers to theirs) as well as professionally produced content, and we’re learning to apply it to our children’s expression and communication in media as much as to those of our peers, whether personal or professional.

This is media literacy now, right? And it needs to be applied not only to what’s in-coming, but also to what’s out-going – what we’re producing, sharing, texting, etc. By the nature of today’s media, whether used by a 15-year-old or a 50-year-old, it can’t easily be separated from social literacy or digital literacy, and it requires healthy doses of both critical thinking and compassion.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

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