Originally published 2 November, 2013
Let’s be clear about my stance on this topic. Cyber trauma needs to be spoken about to help repair ANY damage caused by witnessing and viewing traumatic material.
I have been developing workshops for professionals, parents and adults who work with young people around this topic for over 18 months as I am beginning to see the effects of this through my work as a therapist and Relationships & Sex Education tutor. (See my website)
So what am I talking about? Cyber trauma, what does this mean?
I don’t want to come across all Greenfield-ist, but.. Young people who are watching horrific, traumatic, abusive and cruel images and videos are encountering traumatic responses which are manifesting as behaviours in schools, homes and elsewhere. Now I’m not saying this is every young person, what I am saying is the number of young people and concerned adults that I am talking to in my roles is becoming alarmingly incremental.
So what I decided for this blog was to give a quick overview of trauma, the growing young person, that is the adolescent brain and what happens to that young person after witnessing such a video over the Internet. NOT always Facebook, however this is one area I wan to highlight.
Trauma has a biological effect on the growing brain, which in short affects learning, brain development, empathy, peer and ‘other’ people relationships, behaviour patterns which could be misdiagnosed, memory problems, communication problems, thinking processes and (possibly, but more probable) desensitisation just to name a few.
In short young people are carrying the images as a biological response, which is unconscious so will be ‘out of the persons awareness’. This is showing up as ‘bad’ behaviour which can include self harm, self injurious behaviour, attention deficits, suicidal thoughts and actions, aggression and even possibly reenactments of the images or videos to others.
Just to add to this the young people are under peer pressure, social norms and cyber bullying if they do/don’t watch and share these videos. There is an expectation to be able to handle this level of ‘horror’ in whatever format it appears in. It’s talked about in and out of school and is the new gossip. If children live in low SES households (Socio Economic Status), or have parents who are sensible and try to protect their children through e-safety at home they are not protected from this ever increasing trend as mobile technology allows for the viewing on someone else’s device. Without parental consent or knowledge 🙁
The videos themselves cover a large area of trauma, ranging from horrific murders, assaults, child abuse, sexual and physical, this includes videos of young people abused by peers and then used for blackmail purposes, adult abuse (similar?) animal cruelty, surgeries, accidents and injuries and protestors for the rights of any of these topics using the videos to ‘get their point over’.
Now this is interesting as a phenomenon in itself as to why there is a sudden increase in these types of videos and who actually has an interest in this world? However as adults we have a choice to go looking for this type of information, if we do it’s at our own discretion and peril and we can click onto some websites that freely hold some of these images. I DO NOT KNOW OF, NOR WISH TO CONDONE SEXUAL ABUSE SITES!!! although p*rnography, especially BDSM may look traumatic to young people witnessing it for the first time!
Young people are not getting this choice. It’s happening by accident, through peer pressure, videos are marked to look like something else, there’s an expectation to comment and like the videos with “ha LOL, funny vid!!”, people are tagged, it shows up in someone else’s news feeds and most importantly young people (everyone to be fair) is CURIOUS! It’s non intentional mostly, and this is why trauma has the biggest effect. There was no psychological preparation. Even so watching someone have their head cut off would make me nauseous even if I was prepared for the image.
I have an opposite argument to weigh up the costs of trauma, and to argue for and against who, how and where this is having an effect but lately I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about this area not being acknowledged by large media attention.
I want to discuss this in more details in social services, schools, youth clubs, with parents and so on, but for now I will present at the Trauma Conference and see where I go from there. Maybe no one wants to listen. Ostrich syndrome perhaps?