When socializing on the internet, many teens are exposed to cyberbullies. Cyberbullying occurs when highly negative or abusive language is used or there are threats of violence or assault. Over the past 5 years, researchers have seen a 50% increase in the amount of cyberbullying that teenagers
experience. Surveys of teens’ internet behavior reveal some disturbing trends.
Typically, cyberbullies represent no real threat and the wide of majority circumstances takes the form of ugly comments about looks or friendships, or boyfriends. For most, this is 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, you’re likely 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 the “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 “I am session” to take on a highly personalized quality as if no one is watching. Teens and particularly teenage girls will open up and shares the most intimate thoughts and feelings. In doing so, however, they open themselves up for ridicule and attack. This can get very ugly.
Many parents are appalled when they discover the true nature of the dialogue that goes on in their homes. The vulnerable teenagers 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 conversation deteriorates into personal attacks.
Those who are quite savvy and who used the internet frequently for socializing, express fewer incidents of cyber-bullying behavior. This appears to be the result of learning not to take the conversation 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 activity. However, your teenager is likely much savvier 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 doing when you
are not looking. It’s 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’re meeting online. It’s essential to carefully monitor communications to ensure that your teenagers are 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’re 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’s 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 were 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’s 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 that about the kind of language that you approve of. Also, make it clear that your teenager is not to have a profile on websites such as myspace.com or facebook.com. Furthermore, make it clear what type of websites are off-limits for them such as sites 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 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 you’ll find that you can keep a handle on your teenager and make sure that they’re not a victim of cyberbullies or other negative influences online. Read more about this on my new blog at www.TerrificParenting.net (no longer active…instead – click here)