Teens’ summer social media usage soars, raises mental health concerns | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing


If you think your teen spends a lot of time on social media during the school year, chances are they will spend even more time on it over the summer.

In a FOX 32 News special report, Elizabeth Matthews looks at some of the new trends and pitfalls facing both parents and teens.

“Six hours probably on my phone. It’s mostly at night. Late at night,” said Omar Mazouni, a junior at Lockport High School.

“Actually, two to three hours. Mostly on YouTube or Snapchat,” said Inara Smith, a senior at Lockport.

“I spent about maybe four to five hours at night,” senior Santino Bonko said.

“Probably like four hours. I go on Snapchat to text my friends. We send pictures,” said Deimante Braciulis, a senior at Lockport.

FOX 32 caught up with a group of Lockport High School students just before the year ended to get their take on teens and how they are using social media.

If they average about five hours a day during the school year, what will their usage be during the summer?

“We’re looking at more than 12 hours of social media usage – not constant but always having that notification on,” said Dr. Steve Webb, a school superintendent, police officer and author of “Education in a Violent World.”

New research from the Pew Institute found YouTube as the social media site used the most by teens, but that didn’t top the list at Lockport according to this group.

“Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram,” said sophomore Izeyah Pruitt.

“What stood out to me the most where kids are really aware that how social media can affect them in a positive or negative way,” said Richard Wistocki, a retired cyber crime detective.

While we know social media can affect kids’ mental health, how fast does it happen?

“It is immediate,” Webb said.

Webb, a police officer and school superintendent in southern Illinois, is also on the Illinois Terrorism Task Force school safety commission.

Webb says kids can start a downward spiral as soon as they post a message or a picture and don’t receive a positive response.

“When I don’t get that response, it consumes me as a child because my cognitive ability is still growing,” Webb said.

Based on a recent national survey, teens did say this about social media.

“When we look at this Pew research, it showed that they feel that they can’t control the content that they are seeing,” Wistocki said.

That’s why Wistocki has some concerns about programs like ChatGPT being used on social media platforms.

He says those programs monitor what kids are searching online and will then add content to kids’ “for you” feeds.

“As technology goes, ChatGPT, Snapchat  AI, I think kids are going to be more dependent on it and the problem is they are getting younger. I think more kids are getting younger is because parents think they have control of it and they really don’t,” Wistocki said.

“I’m seeing homemade child pornography of 9-year-olds. It’s a horrible thing to even say,” he added.

While families worry about those photos being on the internet permanently, there is now a tool to take them down.

“Actually it just started. About two months ago, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children launched something called ‘TakeItDown.ncmec.org’.” Wistocki said.

Wistocki says you can upload those pictures or videos to that website and they will use a computer program to determine digital DNA of a picture or video.

“Whatever social media subscribes to the national center they send them that hash value and it wipes it out of all their servers,” Wistocki said.

When it comes to playing video games and online predators, Wistocki said artificial intelligence programs are combing through dialogue.

“Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite – there’s an AI program looking at that chat. If it’s grooming chat, they’re going to report it to the national cyber center as a tip,” Wistocki said.

But there are some sites that still concern law enforcement. Ones that are chat rooms — but don’t say that they are.

“If they take you to private chats, whoosh, they got you,” Wistocki said.

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While some students may struggle if confronted with an online predator, others may not, thanks in part to some of the cyber safety education they’ve received in school.

“I feel like parents think there’s a lot more child predators out there than there are,” Bonk said. “Because really, we’re our own human beings too. When we’re confronted by that it’s easy. Just don’t respond.”

The overall issue both kids and parents seem to struggle with when it comes to social media is just spending less time on it.

“I feel like a good amount of time to spend would be an hour or less, Braciulis said. “But because that’s how everyone communicates that’s the way to communicate with other people.”

“We also have to understand that social media is probably not going anywhere. So instead of telling students to stay off of it completely, I think we have to teach them how to use it properly,” said Lockport guidance counselor Robert Beach.

Another trend one of our experts mentioned is kids locking parents out of their cell phones.

That’s why Wistocki encourages parents to buy a flip phone and just leave it on the counter – to let them know that would be their child’s next cell phone.



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