How moms can make sure their teens stay safe.
12-year-old Brooke Bennett arranged to meet someone she met on MySpace Wednesday, and hasn't been seen since. Articles of Brooke's clothing were found on the side of a road, and divers are searching a lake for the missing girl.Brooke's father said the MySpace account was opened under his supervision. "We told her when we set it up there are things you're not gonna' do," he told Fox News. "We had a little respect problem after a month or so, so we shut it off. There was an issue, and we decided it was not appropriate for her to have it. We changed the password so she couldn't use it," he said. But officials say Brooke later set up an account from another computer without her parents' knowledge.
It's a mom's worst nightmare. Just the thought of our innocent kids out there alone, meeting guys who are pedophiles, rapists, murderers, or God knows what is enough to keep us up at night. But, even though we tell our teens and tweens not to meet strangers, sometimes it feels like the message is just not getting through.
Momlogic called psychologist Dr. Lisa Boesky, author of When to Worry: How to Tell if Your Teen Needs Help--and What to Do About It, for her advice on warning teens against meeting strangers online:
• Don't tell her not to meet strangers -- she'll only tune you out.
"Telling your teen to avoid strangers on the Internet doesn't work," she says. "The Internet creates a false sense of intimacy. If your daughter has been talking to someone online, she probably feels like she knows him. He's not going to be one of those people who would hurt her. No way. The only problem is that sometimes, many times, she's wrong."
• Instead, talk to her about how fake the Internet can be.
"You need to talk to your teen about the false sense of intimacy that develops online and how fake it can be, as well as the dangers that can happen," Dr. Lisa advises.
• Figure our WHY she's meeting strangers on MySpace.
Parents need to look at why their teen girls are vulnerable to this, says Dr. Lisa. "What is it that's missing in her life?" she asks. "What is it she's seeking from this person from MySpace? Once you figure that out, how can you help her fill that void in a healthier, safer way? Most of today's teen girls are desperate for a connection. Once they meet the first person who will give that to them, their judgment often goes out the window. Part of it is that they're not getting that connection at home or from friends. It's a normal need, but they're going about it in a dangerous way."
• Tell her about people who've been raped or murdered as a result of MySpace.
"You may want to use real-life examples of girls who been murdered, raped, or who've disappeared after meeting someone on MySpace, Facebook, or Craigslist. (Google 'Donna Jou' for starters--she's a 19-year-old who went on a date with a guy she met on Craigslist last year and hasn't been seen since.)
Don't tell her about these cases in a lecturing way, or a holier-than-thou way," says Dr. Lisa. "You want to come from an 'I'm concerned about this because...' angle. Parents should stay away from phrases like 'you should' or 'you shouldn't.' Try 'I'm concerned' or 'I'm worried' instead. The last thing you want her to do is shut you out."
• If you find out after the fact that your kid met a stranger, ask why.
"If they do meet someone online and you later find out about it, ask your teen what made her think this was okay," Dr. Lisa advises. "This might make you get out of your own head and into your teen's logic. They have a whole other logic about meeting people online than we do. There's no way to understand them unless you get a sense of where they're at--not where they should be at. Keep in mind, it's part of the teenage years to feel invulnerable and quote-unquote unique. They truly believe 'this will not happen to me.' Parents need to show there are other teens just like them out there and it did happen to them."
How do you talk to your teen or tween about meeting strangers on MySpace?