Social media was one of the prominent concerns among the youth of Paro as found out during the 2-day youth forum on youth concerns conducted at Paro Youth Center on 17th and 18th July 2015. It was amazing to know that most of the participants were aware of both negative and positive influences of using social media. While many saw it as a platform for keeping in touch with friends and family-members, and sharing good information, some had painful experiences to share. Since all of the 40 participants said they are active users of social media, they acknowledged that using it responsibly is important for their personal safety.
One of the participants shared a very painful experience. She said when she was on Facebook sometime ago, a stranger started to chat with her. She said the conversation which began with a simple greeting left her shuddered and emotionally disturbed for days. She said the man who claimed to be her father’s friend soon tried to engage her in a sex chat by sending dirty texts to her. “When I pleaded with him not to use such dirty words with me, he threatened me that he would tell my step-father that I am a bad and naughty girl instead” she said in a shaky voice. “He even said I should marry him if I want him not to tell such things to my step-father” she added. “I told him I am a student and I am not interested in such things, and blocked him from my Facebook contact-list instantly” she said. “After that, I felt so stressed and felt like crying. I even told this to one of my friends and although she tried to comfort me, the incident left me emotionally disturbed for several days” she concluded.
This particular cyber-bullying incident is a gentle reminder that social media can be a dangerous environment for those who do not know how to use it carefully and responsibly. I briefed the participants on the importance of their online privacy and accepting friends—requests from only those whom they personally know. Most importantly, I told them that they should be responsible for whatever they share on social media since it is beyond their control once it is online and that there can be people who might finds ways to take advantage of those materials. . The participants understood that they should not interact with strangers, be it on Facebook or other forms of social media. They feel that there are many other youth in Paro who are vulnerable to such online harassments and cyber-bullying. They said that adequate public education on the proper use of social media could prepare young people better to remain safe in the cyberspace.
We all know that many youth spend a huge chunk of their time online everyday and hence, their personal safety in the virtual world should be a nationwide concern. We conduct youth forums on social media in our Youth Centers from time to time but I feel we must do more to reach out to more youth in the country. As parents, teachers, friends and youth workers, we all must equally share the responsibilities of educating our children on such issues. Cyber-bullying is not the only negative impact of social media. Social media is a source of various types of information, all available at a click of the mouse, and hence, it’s important for our children to know how to access only the right information. There are risks that they might pick up some bad behaviors as well, such as abusing drugs, engaging in gang violence, and indulging in other juvenile crimes. So, really we must help our kids use social media responsibly in order to ensure that they can grow up safe and healthy.
If I have got the right message from the participants of the forum, I am so happy that the youth of Paro are really concerned about their overall wellbeing. I feel that only those who realize this can move forward to safeguard their future. The other concerns highlighted by the participants were drugs/alcohol use, gang violence’s, teenage pregnancy, murders and lack of recreational facilities. The participants also reflected on their roles and responsibilities which was a very productive exercise. The forum themed “Voices of youth” was organized as part of the national youth forum which is to be held later in the year. Similar forums will be conducted in other regional Youth Centers as well and the concerns from each region will be further discussed during the national youth forum and the final outcome will be shared with relevant agencies for appropriate interventions. It was a great privilege for me and my Chief from the Department of Youth and Sports, Ministry of Education to interact with the youth of Paro.