Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why I'm glad there wasn't social media 10 year ago, and why more parents need to be online...

I don't know why some kids just seem to be mean. Why someone would actually take time out of their day to write rude notes and put them in lockers, openly make fun of people in large groups, spread awful lies and rumors, and even threaten or cause physical harm. I don't know why, but I know it happens - it happened to me.

Of it all, two things stand out the most after all these years. The first being the lies about me regarding a so-called-made-up boyfriend. Steve is 3 years older than me and was in college when we started dating my junior year (Spring 2000); so even though he went to various school events with me then, and we've now been married for over 8 years - oh yea, I totally made him up.

The other, and most prominently, were the notes and threats. I have clear memories of these: notes in my locker, notes in my choir book, notes in my softball bag. Hurtful words, lies, threats. I'll never know who wrote them, but I've always had my suspicions. 

But in today's world of technology, bullying comes in the form of cyber bullying - and it doesn't go away as easily.  It's hard enough on kids to handle the bullying at school; home should be a sanctuary.  

Today's teens deal with random texts with insults and threats. Comments on Facebook or Twitter.  Blogs dedicated to how much "Kid A" hates "Kid Z".  All happening at any time day or night, in a medium that is very hard to be controlled.

As a parent, I would recommend that you set up Google or Twitter Alerts with your child's name. If anything is said about your child, you'd know, possibly before they do. Sites such at Twilert give you a mile radius to search by, so you can limit your search to where you live, incase your child shares their name with someone on the other side of the Earth.

Computer monitoring systems are available for you to install into your computer to track your child's online activity, and can be monitored from your own computer. Even if they think that they've deleted the history, you've seen where they've gone. Having this will give you the opportunity to see if your child is being bullied, or is the bully.

The hardest thing to monitor are the cellphones, because we can send a text then delete it and there's no record of it. Or is there? I'm assuming, if you're paying a cellphone bill, you look at the report. Look at the numbers being used to call/text in and out, and then compare them to your child's phone. If you're seeing a large number of text from a particular number, but there is no phonebook listing in your child's phone for it, it may be coming from uninvited sources. If this is the case, call your provider about blocking numbers, or change it and encourage them to keep it private.

My personal suggestion would be to not give them a phone until they are driving.  They don't need it at school (and I know many school officials REALLY don't want your kids to have phones).  But they may need something if they are having car trouble or running late.  If they are in school, the office has a phone if you need to get a hold of them or they you.  If they're at work, their employer probably has a phone, too.   (I mean, who doesn't hate going somewhere and seeing someone who should be working on their cell phone or texting?)

If you are giving your teen a phone - do they need internet? do they need a 8 mega pixel camera? do they need unlimited texting?  Probably not.  They just need to be able to call you if they need you. 

If your child is being affected by cyber bullies, understand that it still can happen even if they don't have a phone or a Facebook page. It can still happen if you're not monitoring it. It can still happen offline as well. You can tell them 500 times a day to ignore it, and that in 20 years it won't matter any more. And that's true.. but the pain is here now. Love them, be patient with them, help them find ways to get it out of their mind.

Being bullied can affect all aspects in a young persons life, and changes in behavior should not go ignored. If you suspect, or know, that your child is being bullied, get the school involved, get other parents involved, and if threats of physical harm are given, get law enforcement officials involved.

For all the young people who may read this - yes, it hurts now, and there will be times over the next few years where those memories will creep up on you. But after graduation, you DO NOT have to see them again; continue to grown and be yourself. The hurtful words do not dictate your life - you do… Be who you are, surround yourself with the people you love and who love you, and you will succeed at whatever you put your mind to.

Here I am, (after I was told I wouldn't do anything with my life) owning two businesses, happily married to my high school sweetheart, and raising three kids. Amazing things can happen. I wish I had the answers, but I don't. But as I'm teaching my young children: smile, keep your head up, and be kind to everyone you meet.

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