Sunday, March 23, 2014

And this is perceptive! Raising kids in the perilous digital age

Back on Huffington Post - hooray!
Before I get started, I wanted to let you all know that Huffington Post just picked up another one of my articles! It's right here... Why I couldn't bring myself to have revenge sex.

...And now onto the scariest thing EVER
I have a teenage daughter and she has an iPhone. It scares the hell out of me. A cell phone with texting is important. It's the way we communicate when we aren't together, which is more and more as she gets older. And I really trust my daughter. She has a great head on her shoulders and is a really terrible liar (thank goodness). And, as one might expect, she has a Facebook account, which she barely uses. Instead, she's on Instagram and Snapchat. My BFF's sister and another good friend follow her and keep me apprised of what's going on. I started following her, too. Because while I trust her, I don't trust hardly anyone else. And recently, I discovered that she is also active on another site that I absolutely HATE: AskFM, which is basically an anonymous slam book.

A few things have happened in the past month that have been simply not OK. How best to handle it? I'm not sure.

The first horrible incident happened about a month ago. My daughter came home disturbed and scared. In tears, she told me that a boy in her school who she didn't know and had never heard of named Chaz Bono was sending her and a few of her friends messages via Instagram. Chaz wanted these girls to send him nudie photos. None of them did. Finally, Chaz sent them a photo of his penis. The girls all responded to him many times to STOP. As soon as I heard this, I hugged her, told her she had done nothing wrong, and that I was going to call the police. Long story short, the police officer came over, there was nothing that could be done at that moment because there was no proof, and the parents of the other girls and I all talked to our girls.

I told my daughter that Chaz Bono is the name of a celebrity's son and not a real person. Who knows if he was a boy or a 75 year old man in Maine. She did the right thing telling me immediately. Three new rules for her:

1. Never, ever engage with anyone. Simply go silent.
2. Take a screen shot of the exchange so you have proof. Immediately.
3. Tell an adult immediately. Me or if I'm not around, someone else.

Oy vey. What do you do? Cancel Instagram and Snapchat? Take the phone away? She did nothing wrong. No punishment. But how best to respond? She uses that phone for so much-- Spanish practice, calendar, music, photos... Much of it perfectly fine and positive and helpful.

The next instance was on AskFM. Someone had posted on her page some awful comment that said, basically, "You are ugly and stupid and no one will ever go out with you." First, my daughter is beautiful and smart but does it matter when you read this stuff about yourself? Instead of hiding the message and cowering, she did something that I thought incredibly brave and perceptive. She took a screenshot and posted it to Instagram for everyone to see. The responses were fantastic. So many friends came to her defense.

Why did she do this? I asked. I would probably have hidden it. She said, "I want others to know that it's ok to be brave and not be bullied. They are cowards whoever wrote that anonymously and I don't care."

Strong girl! It's true-- when you air it publicly, you send a very strong message to your bully: You've picked the wrong person. Because you don't have the power to bully me. You don't scare me or intimidate me and if you really want to bully me, do it in front of everyone. Because, truth be told, bullies are the biggest cowards of all. Good for her.

I have no idea how I raised such a great kid. I am so proud of her and she inspires me.

Now how to deal with cyber safety? That's a work in progress and it is a very scary journey indeed.