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Secret Second Lives: The dark side of teens online

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(PIX11)– According to a PEW Survey, More than 95 percent of teens are online. On average they’re online nearly 11 hours every day, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found.

What they do. Where they go. Who they go there with. We went straight to the source to find out what many parents haven’t been able to.

So, we sat down with a dozen tweens and teens from New York and New Jersey.

A study by the American Psychological Association and the University of New Hampshire determined that 80% of the time kids are online is spent on social media, but not on the sites you might think.

“Frankly, Facebook has lost its luster at this point,” Danah Boyd said.

Danah Boyd is a social media scholar and a researcher at Microsoft. She has been studying the online habits of teens for over a decade.

texting

“My mom got one,” 17-year-old Kueller said. “That was kind of my ticket to go on to the next one.”

Social media is changing from day to day, faster than anybody can keep up.

Instead of blasting status updates and tweets for everyone to see, teens are moving to a more personal form of social media.

Mobile apps like Snapchat and Instagram are seeing drastic growth.

“Teenagers use technology to do things that they’ve always done whenever they can gather with their friends,” Boyd explains. “They hang out, they mess around with each other, they joke, they gossip, they flirt, they’re teenagers.”

But, anytime pictures and videos are involved, there’s bound to be a dark side.

“Who knows what sexting is?” I asked the group of tweens and teens. All but one raised their hand and the majority of them have seen it online.

A Journal of the American Medical Association study found that one in four teens has engaged in sexting.

They’re sending dirty messages and dangerous photos.

‘It’s become a trend,” Kueller said. “It seriously has.”

Some post them for attention, to get what the teens are calling ‘Instagram Famous.’

“A lot of people like to show off you know,” 15-year-old Jason said. “They want to see how many likes they can get.”

Secret Second Lives Part 1: How to manage what teens do online

“They get immediate gratification by getting the likes right away or getting retweeted,” Dr. Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist explained. “It’s something that’s very important to them and they need it, it seems in mega doses.”

Then there are the people who are cyber shamed.

“I guess I just see people getting their pictures exposed,” 17-year-old Erick said. “They thought [it] was going to be private with somebody and they ended up posting it.”

And with the surge of anonymous apps like Secret, Whisper and Yik Yak, it becomes easier and more destructive.

“I see all these comments of people saying on their page ‘oh you’re so ugly? Why would anybody like you? How do you have any friends?’” 11-year-old Stephen said.

“They try to put people down and they don’t even know them,” 13-year-old Andrew added. “The people are like go kill yourself.”

Just in 2013, nine teenage suicides were reportedly linked to cyber bullying on the anonymous Q & A site Ask.Fm, according to the website BuzzFeed.

“Cyberbullying is constant online harassment,”  Ross Ellis explained. “Digital harassment whether it be on your computer, on your phone, your iPad, it’s all the same.”

Ross Ellis is a national bullying and cyberbullying prevention expert and the Founder and CEO of the STOMP Out Bullying.

Some research like a recent study by the charity ChildLine shows an increase in cyberbullying, while other studies like one by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV shows a decrease but says digital harassment is still prevalent.

“Up to 43% from what we know about have been cyber bullied,” Ellis said. “There are just so many kids who are terrified to talk about it, especially if they’re being threatened.”

Ellis added that the best thing to do if you are being harassed is the block that person. If there are threats though, you should print out the messages and report them to the authorities.

Even though there are no definitive numbers, there is no question cyber bullying, combined with other factors, can lead to deadly consequences.

“The thing that I find the noticeable in terms of change has to be how young people navigate privacy,” Boyd explained. “They’re finding sophisticated ways to encode things.”

A 2012 McAfee study found that 70% of teens intentionally hide their online behavior. That number prompted us to bring a handful of parents to get their reaction to secret second lives.

SECRET SECOND LIVES PART 2: How to manage what teens do online

“My biggest concern is that they’re not aware of security,” Brian Tomlinson, father of Jason, said. “[My concern is that] they’re not aware that when they hit delete, it’s not really deleted.”

“Do you guys see anything on there that would shock your parents?” I asked the tweens and teens. “Yes.”

“They’ll post a picture of them trying to kill themselves and then taking pills,” 15 –year-old Jevaughn said.

The parents were most shocked to hear their kids have seen that online.

Some do it for attention, but for others, it’s a true cry for help.

“When we are seeing people are crying out for help online, we think that it’s the technology rather than taking it and saying, actually the technology is making it visible in unprecedented ways,” Boyd said.

For some yes, but for others, with every click, every new app and every new site, visibility gets further and further away.

“I definitely think there are kids who are leading secret second lives online,” 11-year-old Stephen said.

PRODUCED BY: KIM PESTALOZZI