The internet seems a custom fit for the adolescent brain: it is instantly receptive to impulses, secrets told beyond the hearing of adults, silly truth or dare games. Adolescents can find through social media the paradoxical assurance that a) no one has ever felt the way they do, they’re special; b) someone else has felt the way they do, they’re not alone.
But we stolid grownups have fearfully witnessed how social media sites enable children’s brief impulses to spin out of control, become abused, go viral. That, in turn, enables cyber-bullying and predatory behavior. The internet taketh away, and the internet giveth: parents and teachers can search the web for assistance in helping children who have been traumatized through social media.
I am not an expert in social media’s impact and offer no psychological advice. If I tried to give technical advice, it would be outdated the second I finish this sentence. However, I did research cyber-bullying and internet stalking to write Where Privacy Dies. In the novel, digital devices expose an adolescent girl, Haley Haugen, to mortal danger.
What I can say without spoilers is that Haley is a scene-stealer. I did not base her on me in middle school except like her I had (emphasis on “had”) an affinity with math. I was the kid with glasses who finished the math homework first and was sent to the library to educate herself (small school, not much for competition, not much for beefcake either). Haley’s in middle school, surrounded by frenemies, and she knows she’s smarter than the average adult. She talks circles around Detectives Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger, and they’re no dummies. Haley has energy, she has attitude, she has whip-long hair and legs that run fast. She knows the web is “stalker-net.” When Haley returns to school after a mysterious absence, she bumps into Braden, a real cutie, and he teases by calling her a bully—how hot is that! Haley also learns that she has missed “the workshops on how not to be a bully.” She is dubious when it’s explained to her that “everybody was supposed to feel good about everybody,” like all the time.
Haley is not going to feel good about everybody, because somebody means her harm. It gets very very scary, and I’ll leave it to you to find out why.