After Tariq Akbar, 14, was shot and killed Friday following a social media dispute that spilled over offline, his mother spoke out urging parents to “keep an eye on your kids.” (Photo: WIAT).
An argument that sparked on Facebook blew up into a violent fight that ended with a 14 year old getting shot and killed after attending a fireworks display in Milwaukee on Friday.
The fatal dispute began, according to local police, with two groups feuding about a girl online. (Milwaukee police did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment). “My baby was at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd,” Arifah Akbar told WIAT about her son, Tariq Akbar, who died in the hospital. “I just want to say to the other parents keep an eye on your kids, and watch their friends and who they hang with, because you never know what will happen to your kid from hanging with the wrong people.”
Keeping an eye on who kids are hanging out with and what they’re doing online is just the starting point of what needs to be done, say safety experts. “Research suggests that youth who are victimized electronically are also very likely to also be victimized off-line,” according to a 2006 research brief entitled “Electronic Media and Youth Violence” from the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Violence Prevention. Even exchanges between friends that escalate online can play out in person, sometimes violently. “And parents tend to be dismissive of what kids are doing online and not realize how impactful it can be,” Patti Agatston, a counselor with the Prevention/Intervention Center serving Georgia’s Cobb County school district and co-author of Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age, tells Yahoo Parenting.
Facebook fights in particular, can go south, fast. “Before social media, if someone said a comment that was upsetting to you, you wouldn’t be able to look at it over and over,” explains Agatston, who serves on the board of directors for Connect Safely and the International Bullying Prevention Association. “Now kids see comments over and over at the same time that others weigh in, and that allows escalation and intensification of feelings that otherwise would have subsided.”
And while the level of violence to which Akbar fell victim isn’t common, she says, it is common for Facebook and Twitter fights to blow up in the classroom. “Kids come to school upset and angry and fights happen that started online. The key for parents to prevent violence from spilling over off-line is to step in as soon as kids’ exchanges start to heat up.
“It’s challenging and of course, you’re not always able see everything, but if you’re monitoring and you see a lot of kids starting to weigh in on what appears to be a conflict, it can suggest that it’s escalating,” explains Agatston. That’s the time to suggest that your teen try to work the issue out one-to-one, in person. “Help kids understand that conflict is best handled face to face,” she says.
Then, talk with teens about how even well-meaning pals can make a bad situation spiral. “Often friends think they’re being supportive, weighing in, but unfortunately it can stir things up more,” she says. “It’s in these larger group settings that we see it’s more likely for things to intensify.”
The last step is to step away. “Suggest that when things start to feel really intense, it’s a good idea to take a time out for a few days from those friends and to go dark,” she adds. Kids need to learn, Agatston adds, “that when you have a disagreement, it’s best not to go digital.”