The Anti-Social Media Revolution: Parents, Are You Prepared?

Flash mobs used to be entertaining. Relative strangers would plan via Twitter and Facebook to meet in a public place to do something fun, like dance to a popular song, have a pillow fight, or just hug a passing stranger. Check out the fun "free hugs" flash mob in the video below.

Recently though, flash mobs have taken a much more sinister turn, with groups of young people converging on busy or commercial areas to harass or rob innocent passers-by, to steal merchandise, or simply cause mayhem. Social media, with its undeniable benefits has been subverted to become increasingly, anti-social media.

On August 13, in Montgomery County, Maryland, a flash mob converged on a 7-Eleven following the state fair and shoplifted hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise while the store attendant and cashier stood helplessly by. Earlier that month in cities across the country –Madison, Wisconsin; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio and Stockton, California to name a few – communities reacted with shock and horror to sometimes graphic video images of their young people engaging in vandalism, robbery and even assault in groups sometimes numbering in the hundreds. That’s the other element of flash mobs – like much of life in this new technological age they’re generally not of interest to participants unless recorded in some fashion. In Montgomery County, a recording of the 7-Eleven “mob-robbery” was instrumental in assisting law enforcement with identifying almost every kid involved. Some, the police chief reported, were turned in by their very own parents and pastors.

As parents ourselves, we can only imagine that they were as appalled as everyone else to learn what kids in their community were up to, and mortified to discover that their own children were among the culprits. Before leaping to conclusions about a lack of parental involvement, it is important to keep things in perspective. Many flash mobs are fairly brief in duration and sometimes even more brief in their formulation. A June 23 flash mob robbery in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania took less than five minutes and resulted in thousands of dollars in losses for a Sears store as teenagers took watches, sneakers and clothing and were gone before police could respond. As rapidly as an idea is developed, it can be transmitted via Twitter or Facebook and reach hundreds or even thousands, and if those people are youngsters already prone to impulsivity and occasionally flawed judgment, it can be a recipe for almost certain disaster. Further, internet parental control settings and spyware would do little or nothing to prevent this kind of activity since much of it is organized with the smartphones that have become a staple of teenage life.

But this is not to say that parents are entirely powerless. The following are tips to help reduce the likelihood that your teen will become involved in this kind of activity.

Tip #1: Know where your teen is, where they are going, and when they will be back; ask questions when they return. Public service announcements in the late eighties famously asked, ‘it’s ten p.m., do you know where your children are?’ Today, the same principle should be equally applicable. In the Montgomery County 7-Eleven mob robbery, it was past one a.m. when the teens descended on the convenience store. In both cases, while many in the public were forgiving of parents not knowing precisely what the kids were up to, they became less so when they learned to late hour at which these flash mobs occurred. Don’t hesitate to ask your teen where they are going, to prescribe limits and curfews and to make inquiries about what they were doing while they were out.

Tip #2: Monitor your teen’s online presence and activity. One of the benefits, and drawbacks, of social media is its capacity to support relationship-building. Teens can keep in touch with friends who live at great distances and make new friends with people they might not otherwise meet. But not all of these relationships are appropriate and pro-social. By monitoring your teen’s online presence – following them on Twitter, or insisting that they accept your ‘friend request’ on Facebook, for instance – you can ensure that their online activity and persona are consistent with that which you expect of them in the real world.

Tip #3: Keep abreast of developments and trends in social media. One of the significant disadvantages that many parents have is that they understand less about social media and technology than their teens and pre-teens do. This generation is the first to see many of the communication staples their parents grew up with, like books, magazines, snail mail and even telephone landlines, become close to obsolete. By keeping abreast of developments and trends in social media, you can remain aware of the various avenues that your child uses to communicate and plan activities.

Learn more about teens and social networking >

Tip #4: Talk to your teen about consequences of anti-social activity online as well as in the community. Parents are largely still playing catch-up when it comes to the new culture of disclosure that social media represents. Many young people routinely share personal and even explicit information online that their parents would not consider sharing under any circumstances, without regard for how that information might be used and the impact it can have on their future. Likewise, teens involved online activity including planning and later boasting about participation in violent or anti-social flash mobs often seem to lack an understanding about how that can affect their future, and how it reflects on how they hope to be perceived today. Parents should have frank conversations about the implications and potential consequences of idle talk and anti-social activity online that can become very real, very dangerous and even criminal activity in the real world.



1. Social Networking: An Introduction.

2. Social Media and Young Adults.

3. Parenting in the Internet Age.

4. Image via mattwi1 s0non Flick'r.

I think the reputation of flash mobs as something entertaining and ostentatious has become something more or less ominous during the past few months. I think these young lads should be taught manners immediately before things go really out of hand and antisocial. Many people have already lost valuables and got hurt.


I loved the free hug video, but I’m so sad to hear of the subversion of those positive social media everts. The parent suggestions mentioned are so important.
For a related article, “Texting and Children” See

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