Social media and new technology are making teenagers more susceptible to dangerous behaviors, a recent study suggests. Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that many teens share their non-suicidal but harmful activities - like cutting, scratching or burning themselves - to their followers. However, they mask these with secret hashtags that make it harder for parents to monitor what is really going on with their children. Worse, they encourage other kids to do the same.
"The online communities that develop around these hashtags can draw in adolescents and provide them a strong sense of belonging and support that is centered on these unhealthy behaviors," said the study's lead author and adolescent behavior specialist Megan Moreno, via Yahoo. "This can make recovery from these behaviors more challenging."
Moreno and her team searched Instagram, a popular photo sharing platform, using #selfharmmm to identify the activities of teenagers. They found pictures of kids sharing their destructive habits and they also discovered more vague terms like #blithe, #cat, #MySecretFamily and #SecretSociety123 to refer to similar harmful activities.
The team also discovered that teens use the hashtags #Deb, #Annie and #Olive to describe depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The team reported that results of the searches have risen over time. For instance in 2014, searching for #selfharmmm generated 1.7 million results, but that number is now up at 2.4 million results for 2015.
Concerned users on the internet have already asked social media sites to flag and remove these posts on the platform, prompting Facebook to impose a policy about contents that promote self-harm. On the other hand, Instagram apparently pops a warning when accessing certain hashtags that relate to suicide and self-harm, according to News Corp. Australia.
Moreno and her team's study highlighted the need for parents to become more communicative to their kids when it comes to online activities. However, another expert suggested that using social media might be result in a more effective campaign against these behaviors.
"Kids might not listen to their parents or adults in general, but they still might be influenced by their peers within social media and user communities might succeed where parents and health campaigns fail," said Atte Oksanen in the Yahoo report. Oksaken did a study on anorexia online campaigns, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.