Irish people have the highest percentage of Facebook use in the English speaking world, and the digital landscape which young people occupy is immeasurably different to that of their parents, who may have no experience of YikYak, Whisper or Snapchat. Regardless of how cool parents think they are, their psychological filters mean that they are not exposed to information in the same way that their developing offspring are.
“The narrative around how important appearance is has become very strong,” says Anne McCormack. “Young people are using social media as a tool to work out their own self worth. That feedback from social media is something young people need to be trained how to manage."
Anne aims to open people's eyes to a changing world. In her 15 years’ experience of working with families and young people she has identified the challenges presented to young people by the online world and has some pertinent advice for parents.
Her new book Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps is a distillation of her experience: “Prior to the book coming out I had been involved with meeting people in schools around the issue of social media and mental fitness and how young people can protect themselves online.”
Many young people subscribe to anonymous platforms that have thrown up some disturbing trends where faceless bullying happens as a matter of course.
“The anonymity makes it unreal, and they do not consider the consequences. Yet those consequences can be so dire. The effect of these comments on children is something that parents need to be more aware of. Parents need to have a conversation with young people before they go online about their responsibility online toward their peers.
“It is very important for young people to understand that they are starting on a new phase of psychological development - what they are facing is the task of trying to work out their identity. They are highly sensitive to the feedback they get from others – it is really important for young people to get the message that this is a particular stage of development that you are going through and you are highly sensitive to feedback. It is why young people are so tuned into the number of 'Likes' they get, but it is also why mean comments can feel so personal,” Anna says.
This Saturday (April 22) Anne, whose husband Martin hails from Killashandra, will be in Easons Cavan Town from 2pm to answer questions and give tips on keeping young people safe online.
Read more from Anne's interview in this week's Anglo Celt