The Washington Post

Montgomery County teen fight video: The real online danger to kids

A fight between at least four girls in the gym of Montgomery County’s Churchill High School briefly became YouTube fodder last week, making the students from the well-regarded school the latest to join a troubling trend.

Before the clip titled “Churchill Fight Club” disappeared from YouTube for violating a site policy blocking “graphic or gratuitous violence,” a local Patch reporter, Greg Cohen, discovered and wrote about the video. It was posted Feb. 21 and removed Feb. 23.

I followed up with Montgomery County Schools spokesman Dana Tofig on Sunday, and he confirmed the basics of the story, adding:“We don’t discuss student discipline but you can be assured the matter is being dealt with by the Churchill administration.”

(Full disclosure: Tofig and I are acquaintances and former colleagues.)

The Churchill incident came just as two Massachusetts girls are facing punishment for a more extreme playground brawl in front of a cheering crowd of 27 and an iPhone camera. A video of that fight was also posted on YouTube and later yanked, according to the Boston Globe.

These are just the latest of a string of videos where kids post videos of other kids fighting. Oftentimes, the clips suggest those involved are playing up violence or even inciting it for the cameras. They also reveal that us parents may be wrong about the biggest threats to our kids when they engage in social media.

For years, many of us have concentrated on protecting kids from predators, bullies and harassers online. We may have forgotten that kids also need cyber protection from themselves.

Children are far more at ease online than their parents. This ease includes a willingness to use social media to act out, rebel and get attention.

Put another way:

“What used to stay in the hallways doesn’t stay in the hallways anymore,” Tofig said.

He said Montgomery schools have tried to confront this by introducing a special cyber-safety curriculum for students and classes for parents. But there’s only so much a school can do.“Parents need to know what access their kids have and how they’re using it and what they’re putting out there,” Tofig said.

Time and again, we’re reminded that many of us are not keeping up with that expectation.

Take some other disturbing trends:

A slew of videos have recently popped up showing young girls asking anonymous viewers to rate their facial attractiveness. The “Am I Ugly?” clips (more on them at CafeMom’s The Stir) are the result of mixing adolescent insecurity with unfettered Internet access.

Then there’s sexting. A December report in Pediatrics found that kids who trade sexually explicit texts of themselves often do so not as a sexual expression but as a form of experimentation.

Meanwhile, Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist with the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project said last year when she released her own findings on teen sexting that “the desire for risk-taking and sexual exploration during the teenage years combined with a constant connection via mobile devices creates a ‘perfect storm’ for sexting.”

The same might be said of adolescence and online access in general.

What’s the best way to confront the new venues teens have for rebellion and inappropriate expression? Is it enough to talk with our kids about the dangers of social media misuse?

Related Content:

Social media, teens, parents and whether to ‘friend’

Combating cyber bullying and technology’s downside

Bullying: We’re against it, but can we agree on a definition?

Anthony Weiner and his teachable moment


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