How texts and Facebook messages are making it even harder for young adults to settle disputes peacefully.
In a split second, the two girls rush toward Keisha, the enemy, swinging punches. They don’t stop until the store owner runs outside and pulls the girls off each other, forcing them to leave the scene. Luckily nobody was badly hurt, but there is always next time.
Before the physical fight began, it was already happening on the girls’ phones, email and social media accounts. Daily harassments and threats from both sides meant that if one was to stop, it would seem like they were backing down. Eventually, it came down to a face-to-face standoff.
This situation is an example of a new trend. Teens start fights on social media and finish with face to face punches that can cause serious damage. As more and more teens join social media sites, even more fights are happening.
Most of the fights begin with a misinterpretation of information, something that happens when you are not communicating face-to-face. Then it easily gets out of control when put in the hands of school group rivals.
That’s what happened to Cherie and Keisha. They found out that a boy was dating them both at the same time while chatting with each other on Facebook. They threatened violence against each other, both claiming that the other had “stolen” their boyfriend. Once the tension had built up online, bumping into each other on the street by chance meant that they had to act on the words so easily thrown around in messages.
There have been many fights happening at my school, Steinmetz College Prep. Before they put the pieces together, teachers and Assistant Principal had been confused about the sudden increase.
Dr. Friesen is the disciplinarian teacher at Steinmetz; her job is to solve disputes between individuals, and to counteract tense atmospheres with conflict resolution tactics.
“Fights are fights,” says Friesan. "But what we’re seeing now is a new kind of fighting.”
According to Friesan, it’s harder to contain a fight that is happening on a computer or phone, and staff are mostly trained in how to solve in-person disputes.
There certainly is a disconnect between how students fight with each other and how administrations are preparing for it. According to most student handbooks, afight consist mostly of hitting, punching, slapping, poking, grabbing, pulling, tripping, kicking and pinching. This is also how Derrick Meador, a school administrator for Jennings School District in Missouri, describes it in his advice for other schools to combat the problem. Jennings is considered a well-respected authority on school policy.
“There are countless negative effects; the whole school sometimes comes to a standstill," says Corrine Myers, Assistant Principal.
“The teachers and the security guards need at least 20 to 25 minutes to contain the fights. That means that the school goes on lockdown, everyone goes into the closest classroom, and class can’t continue. The kids miss a whole period,” she says.
In the past month, Steinmetz has had a “lockdown” four times. The administration is looking into new ways of tackling the problem.
“We want to show the students that their cell phone isn't the best thing they’ve ever owned, it’s becoming a weapon. But just like guns, if we can’t get the students to put the phones away and think before they use them, we can’t stop the heart of the problem” says Myers.
Writer's note: Instead of jumping to conclusions and misinterpreting what people say, people should have a straight-up conversation with each other. Sometimes you can take words and issues out of proportion - people should check themselves and make sure the issue is something worth throwing a punch for. Social media is an environment where it’s even easier for that to happen, so stop and think before you hit “send.” If you wouldn’t say it to a person’s face, delete, delete, delete.