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Teens and Textual Harrassment

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Lori Getz: When I was a kid and the phone rang, my dad loved to be the first to pick it up. It wasn't that he wanted to interrogate my friends; he just wanted to know who was on the other end of the line. I can only remember a couple of instances when my mom picked up the phone receiver and listened to my private conversations.

Girl texting

Otherwise, it was just a matter of knowing with whom I was talking and for how long. We did have a phone system wherein a light would shine bright red while the line was in use, so everyone in the house knew if I was on the phone at 3 AM.

The point is that just because the technology is changing doesn't mean the behavior is. Teenagers today aren't much different than we were; they just have a lot more access to information and one another. So as good parents, we need to start implementing the same good parenting in a new digital age!

"Textual harassment" is harassment via text messaging. It includes unwanted sexual solicitation, severe bullying, threats and constant messaging by an unwanted person. Even obsessed teens in unhealthy relationships who use text messaging to control their partners are considered to have engaged in textual harassment.

Seventy-five percent of teenagers have cell phones, and 33 percent of them are sending more than 100 text messages a day. MTV, along with the Associated Press, reported that half of young people between the ages of 14 and 24 have received some sort of abusive text message. A recent momlogic survey found that 44 percent of teens have been involved in a sexting incident, and only a quarter of those teens' parents knew anything about it. Get the picture? Teens sometimes behave badly.

As parents, we need to get involved! How involved is really the question. Some experts believe that we should be monitoring all texting and cellular communication. To me, that's a bit much. Don't get me wrong: When a teenager deserves to be spied on, by all means. But should it be our first course of action?

I go back to the story of my parents and how they monitored my telephone use. There was a modicum of privacy issued to me as long as I didn't abuse the privilege. Before we dive into the deep end and monitor our teens' every move, let's start with some basic parenting. Here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:

1) How much is too much? When texting begins to interfere with your child's ability to have face-to-face conversations with you or their friends ... it's too much. If it's affecting their learning or chores ... it's too much. If they can't put it away at the dinner table or if they would prefer to text grandma rather than call her ... it's too much. Texting is a convenient and ubiquitous mode of communication. But there is always room for balance! I recently sat down with a young girl (age 15, I believe) who has become known as the "texting queen." She sent more than 24,000 text messages in one month. That means she sent about 800 text messages a day. For me, that's too much!

2) Where does the phone sleep? When your kids go to sleep, so should the technology. There is no reason for them to take the phones to bed! If they tell you they need it to wake up, get them an alarm clock. The constant ding, vibration, ring is affecting their sleep. Also, teens make the worst decisions late at night when they are tired. All of a sudden, they do something they would never do during normal waking hours.

3) Who are they constantly messaging -- and who is constantly messaging them? You may not need to know every intimate detail of the conversation, but you do need to know this! When you have an idea of who they are talking to, you usually have an idea what it's about.

4) Are there parental controls I can use that find balance between spying and parenting? Yes. There is a great piece of software called Cell Safety by Websaftey.com. It alerts only the parent when a text seems to be putting a child in harm's way -- when cyberbullying, sexual solicitation or textual harassment is being sent either by or to the child's phone. It gives the child some privacy but alerts the parents when something is wrong. It also stops the child from being able to text while driving. I need something like that!

All in all, getting involved is definitely important! Check in, ask questions and be the parent! Your kids need guidance, and it's up to you to give them a road map to successful relationships -- no matter what technology is involved.


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