The Cyber World is Risky Business [School Counselor’s Corner]

cyberbullying, teens online, emosocial intelligence, growing up online, internet

This article is by our resident school counselor at Radical Parenting. Check out her bio and other articles or submit a question at School Counselor’s Corner: Q&A with Dr. A. 


I have been doing an awful lot of thinking about the cyber world lately.  Maybe it is because of the massive media coverage of cyber bullying cases or maybe because it is most of what my students talk about, claim they can’t live without, and complain about!  Believe it or not, even they know the cyber world is quite the hassle in some regards.  No, I’m not going to delve into the typical discussion of cyber bullying or supervising what kind of elicit pictures they are posting (although they are both great points for strong parental supervision).  I’m going where no one else wants to go – to question cyber socializing for adolescents all together.


I know, I will receive serious hate mail on this article (at least from the teens), but I am going to give you a little perspective of just what can happen when your child screws up in the cyber world.  I am going to give you three issues to ponder when deciding how much supervision your child needs when working with cyber sources.  I will work my way up in terms of severity.


1) First of all, it takes a great deal of time and energy to keep up with that many friends.  Everyone knows that the higher number of “friends” you have, the more popular you are, so teenagers tend to accept just about anyone who friends them.  Most of these are probably “cotton candy” friends.  They are fluff friends to inflate their numbers.  No harm most of the time, but it can sure be a time sucker flitting around the suggested friends list and catching up on your newsfeed.  Those of you on any of the main social networking sites know what I mean.   What is even more interesting is that I have students who are starting to get frustrated too.  They are coming in saying, “I can’t stop myself.  Help me!”  They are literally begging for boundaries on how often and when they can participate in social networking.  Parents, it is your duty to provide these guidelines.  Will they pitch a fit when you do it?  Yes, of course they will, but it will serve them well in the end.  You need to have times that are off limits for texting, instant messaging (IMing), video messaging, social networking, and accepting phone calls.  If you would like some ideas, I suggest starting with omitting all technological devices from homework hours (other than what is needed for an assignment), driving (of course), and dinnertime.  Don’t forget – that means you too parents.  Set the example by focusing on your children during dinner.  If you prefer a written contract with your teen, feel free to download a copy from the internet or email me for my version!


2) While mismanaging time can be a nuisance and even pull down grades if homework is not tended to, my main concern is something much more concerning regarding their posted pictures.  Did you know that if your GPS is switched to “On” on your smart phone, someone can track any picture posted of your child on their social networking site down to your home address?  Apparently, it is a simple application downloaded to the phone and can easily locate the address from which the picture was taken.  This is seriously disturbing information for parents.  Please make sure that your child your child’s GPS on the camera portion of their phone is turned off.  This should not turn off their emergency GPS, so check with your phone company if you are having trouble figuring it out.


3) If those two points haven’t caused you to question how much access your child has to the cyber world, maybe this one will.  As you may have seen with the many documentaries of cyber bullying recently, the legal system has a long way to go before catching up to our technologically-savvy world.  Right now, adolescents who are posting or forwarding inappropriate sexual images can be categorized as a child sexual predator and if they are caught “cyberbulling,” they can be charged with a felony.  That’s right – a felony!


The Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act was put in place in 2009.  It reads:


“Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”


In translation, this means that intentionally mean behavior, to be determined in a court of law, is punishable by up to two years in prison.  Now, I am never going to condone mean behavior in any respect, but should our children pay such a high price for what in all essence is our fault for allowing them unsupervised access to a dangerous weapon – the internet?


In some respects, it is similar to handing a weapon to a child.  Would we fault a 10-year old for shooting someone if we handed them a loaded gun, gave them no instructions, and did not supervise them? Now, just as the Internet itself is not bad, neither is the gun, but doesn’t it seems ridiculous to charge the child with murder when they accidentally hurt someone?


It is not typically my style to bring up a question that I don’t have an answer to or at least have a suggestion on how to address it, but I feel this discussion has waited far too long.  We need to really examine the appropriate boundaries for children when it comes to technology.
Do you have an opinion on this topic?  Post it right here.



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