Educating Yourself and Your Teenaged Daughter About Online Harassment

Girls are more likely to experience abusive, coercive, or dishonest behavior on the Internet. Here’s how both of you can avoid it.

Imagine this: your teenaged daughter starts dating for the first time. She meets a seemingly lovely boy and they go out for several months, but pretty soon you see the signs that they are struggling, and she announces that she has broken up with him.

One day soon after the breakup, your daughter comes home from school in tears. Her now ex-boyfriend had convinced her to send him some suggestive photos while they were together and in an act of revenge, he has shared those photos with his classmates. Her friends and other boys are mocking her, calling names, and using the photos to bully her.

You go to the principal, who assures you that the school will get to the bottom of it and the young man and his friends will be held accountable. Except nothing ever happens.

Unfortunately, this is not only a true story, but a common one. Online harassment, bullying, and stalking are pervasive. It’s estimated that 43% of kids have encountered threatening or abusive behavior online, and girls are twice as likely to experience this kind of abuse as boys.1 What is even more disturbing is that kids are far more likely to become depressed, fall behind in school, and even become suicidal as a result of this treatment.1

The laws are slow to catch up with this new and treacherous phenomenon, but it’s important to note that they are changing to reflect it.

Abusive and non-consensual treatment online is so potentially damaging that we are duty bound to address it, and if possible, prevent it from happening in the first place.

Parents are far from comforted, however, when their child has experienced a nightmare like this, and we often feel helpless to defend our kids against it. Now, more than ever, we must learn as much as we can about these different types of abuse and how to prevent it from happening to anyone we know. Our first line of defense is education. Let’s go over some quick terms you might not be familiar with and how they are treated according to the law. Then, we can look at strategies for protecting ourselves and our kids from these dangerous practices.

  • Catfishing, or posing as someone else with the purposes of interacting with someone online, is not illegal. Perpetrators will fabricate an online persona and then draw their victim in, often designing that persona around their victim’s preferences and visible details.
  • Cyberbullying, or using the Internet to intimidate, spread lies, or humiliate a person, is illegal in almost all states. It constitutes harassment and the charges can be severe since the effects are devastating for the victims.
  • Revenge porn. One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is thinking that because their kids are under 18, they aren’t experimenting with taking photos and videos of themselves. It’s somewhat of a misnomer, because revenge porn is simply the act of publically posting photos of someone without consent. This behavior is now accountable to the law in 34 states, and growing awareness means it will likely be illegal in all 50 in the near future. The charges can range from misdemeanor to a Class 4 felony, meaning it’s actually possible to have the perpetrator arrested and charged.2
  • Swatting. This is profoundly disturbing trend where cybercriminals fictitiously and anonymously report an extreme crime that sends a SWAT team to the victim’s house. It doesn’t take a tremendous imagination to picture just how traumatic this can be for the victim and their families. The FBI has done considerable work to track down the criminals in theses instances. This cruel prank is punishable by up to five years in prison.3

First and foremost, we have to open and maintain a dialog with our teens about these practices, and about the steps they need to take to protect themselves. If they are old enough to use social media, they are old enough for this conversation. Part of the problem is that young people aren’t identifying these vicious practices as abuse, and so they don’t speak out. Refer to our blog on identifying the various forms and signs that someone is potentially dangerous: (insert link to “how to spot a scam on the Internet”)

Our daughters have a whole new set of parameters to contend with in this information era. It’s critical that we take the threat seriously, that we do everything we can to empower our girls in the real world and online. In a climate where one click of a button can destroy a reputation or humiliate a person to the point of lasting psychological consequences, we must be proactive and teach our young women how to identify when someone is hurting them. Though it is not about online abuse per say, we highly recommend The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker, a brilliant book about social and psychological self-defense that should be a primer for all young women before they start dating.

Also, here is a list of resources to expand awareness and tips to protect families against these types of crimes:

http://www.cybercivilrights.org/welcome/

http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

http://www.stopbullying.gov/laws/

 

 

References:

  1. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-cyber-bullying
  2. http://www.cybercivilrights.org/revenge-porn-laws/
  3. http://www.businessinsider.com/what-does-swatting-mean-2015-3

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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