I just wrote an article for a local publication, and thought you might be interested. It’s about the disturbing trend toward cyber-bullying. It’s especially prevalent with the 12-15 year old teenage girls.
Teens More Frequently Bullied Online
When socializing on the Internet, many teens are exposed to “cyber-bullies.” Cyber bullying occurs when highly negative or abusive language is used, or there are threats of violence or assault. Over the past five years, researchers have seen a 50% increase in the amount of cyber bullying that teenagers experience.
Surveys of teens Internet behavior reveal some disturbing trends.
Typically, cyber-bullies represent no real threat. In the wide majority of circumstances, this takes the form of ugly comments about looks or friendships or boyfriends. For most, this has relatively little consequence. However, some teenagers are deeply bothered by the conversations they experience.
Teen discussions online often use harsh language.
If you allow your teenager to chat freely on the Internet, without monitoring their conversations, it is likely that you are missing a very disturbing trend. Absent any parental limitations, teenagers often end up using harsh, and profane language. In my parent coaching practice, I see more and more examples of teenagers whose parents do not model such language, and the adolescent does not use such language at home. However, on the Internet, they become “one of the crowd” and ultimately end up using very abusive and ugly language.
Internet chat rooms become very personalized.
Another growing trend is for chat and instant messaging (IM) sessions to take on a highly personalized quality. As if no one is watching, teens (and particularly teenage girls) will open up and share the most intimate thoughts and feelings. In doing so however, they then open themselves up for ridicule and attack. These can get very ugly. Many parents are appalled when they discover the true nature of the dialogue that goes on in their homes!
The teenagers who are most vulnerable are the newbies, who are not particularly Internet savvy.
When new to the Internet chat world, adolescents are often not prepared for the harsh language they experience. Many feel traumatized, and deeply hurt, by how quickly conversations deteriorate into personal attacks.
Those who are quite savvy, and who use the Internet frequently for socializing, express fewer incidents of cyber-bullying behavior. This appears to be the result of learning not to take the conversations personally. However, very few parents would view these discussions as healthy.
What can parents do?
1.) Use parental controls on your browser. Then monitor. Monitor. Monitor.
Most parents will affirm that they do monitor their child’s activities. However, your teenager is likely much more savvy than you are. It is not enough to occasionally walk by and look over their shoulder. You need to make sure the parental controls are always activated. You don’t need to know more about computers, but you must know more about monitoring the computer than they do!
2.) Purchase “ghostware” to know what your teenager is doing when you aren’t looking.
It is relatively easy to install software on your computer that will allow you to monitor what your teenager is doing. Unfortunately, you may be able to trust your teenager, but you can’t trust everyone that they are meeting online. It is essential to carefully monitor communications, to ensure that your teenager is following guidelines that you can support. This also gives you a tool for keeping track of their language, and the quality of the exchanges. You can see every keystroke made when they are online, or writing an email.
They won’t like it…but…the Internet is the gateway to the entire world…the good and the bad. In my opinion, it is fair game to warn your teenager that this is not a confidential form of communication, and that you will be watching over their shoulders. They don’t need to know exactly how you are doing this. You just need to keep an eye on things, and have integrity by letting them know you will be watching.
3.) Keep the computer in a central area of the home.
There is a growing trend for teenagers to have a computer in their bedroom. With several teenagers in the home, this makes monitoring computer usage difficult.
It is much easier if you establish a ground rule that requires the computer to be within eyesight. In this way, your presence serves as a significant deterrent to behavior and conversations that you would not approve of.
4.) Establish clear consequences for violating your guidelines.
Establish guidelines about the kind of language that you approve of. Also, make it clear that your teenager is not to have their profile on websites such as Myspace.com or Facebook.com. Furthermore, make it clear what types of websites are off limits for them, such as sights containing adult language and content.
Once you have established these guidelines, then make sure that your teenager understands that there will be a consequence for violating the guidelines. If you make clear that they’ll lose the computer for a week, and then follow through with that consequence, your teenager will learn to honor the guidelines that you put into place.
If you follow these simple principles, I think that you’ll find that you can keep a handle on your teenager, and make sure that they are not a victim of cyber-bullies, or other negative influences online.