So when I started writing a post on online safety for this month's Yahoo Motherboard, I immediately started seeing images of sweaty guys in trenchcoats, or glassy-eyed dudes sitting in front of their computer screen eating nachos and slurping on a Bud Light. So much for going through pictures of my ex-boyfriends! But then something surprising happened -- once I started thinking of who really posed an immediate threat to my kids online, I came up with an entirely different visual altogether, and these villains were wearing cute boots and jumpers from Forever 21.
Because in my opinion, the more urgent threat, the one that I've already encountered with both of my girls, is the one that comes from the frenemy sitting behind them in algebra or the ex-best friend now going to a school on the other side of town who can't let go of a grudge. That's right, I'm talking girl-on-girl offenses, and not the kind you've seen on Showtime at 3am, either.
I'm not sure if you've heard, but tween and teen girls can be vicious. Not only mean, but conniving, clever, merciless and secretive. Oh, and possessed with stamina like you wouldn't believe -- I've seen Facebook fights go on for days at a time at a level that would leave hardened criminals begging to be un-friended.
We've been lucky in that the most harassment our girls have had to endure has consisted of some name calling and a couple of online spats, but cyberbullying is on the rise and I'm keeping my eyes and ears open for any signs of trouble. I try to monitor their online contacts carefully, and spy on their Facebook pages regularly. This in itself is a painful experience -- you think you're raising them right and then come to find they've used valuable wall space to tag their friends on a Pokemon poster according to their 'traits.' And spelled 'huggable' wrong.
I'm not denying the dangers of the online world -- I know that predators are out there and that the possibility of strangers threatening my kids is real. But I think that the more tangible, immediate threat to my tween and teen daughters is probably not the pervert in Germany inviting them to a Skype underwear dance party, but is more likely the ex-bff who decides that she's going to start a rumor 'just for fun' or the friend who thinks that IM'ing their crush's name to the entire 7th grade is hi-larious.
And then there's the bigger threat -- I hear that hell hath no fury like the angry classmate who decides that she didn't like being tagged 'Hugable Pikachu.' There's no task force for that, and we should be afraid, very afraid.
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tags: online safety | cyberbullying | yahoo motherboard