When you think of bullying, what do you picture? Most television shows feed us the classic scenario of one kid threatening another for his lunch money. However, bullying takes many forms, and for our teenage daughters in a digital age, the situation usually plays out very differently. As parents, it can be hard for us to recognize digital dangers that our children face every day.
The Screen of Anonymity
It’s a sad truth that when we have a little bit of anonymity, we don’t always follow the same code of conduct that we might in person. This principle is put into sobering practice in cyber-bullying. This can come through texting, Snapchat, or various forms of social media. For teens who are frequently tied to their phones, it can quickly start to feel like they have a bomb in their pocket, and they never know when the next blow will come.
While it may seem confusing to us that our children can feel so victimized through harassment online, it’s a very real stress for high school students, who put so much stock in their reputation and their online identity, which is used for every social interaction they have outside of the home.
Digital Harassment and Dating Abuse
Some reports claim that digital harassment is the new domestic abuse. About a quarter of teens in relationships report some form of digital dating abuse. An abuser might use technology to subject someone else to any or all of the following signs of abuse:
- Stalking and/or keeping obsessive tabs on the other person’s whereabouts
- Limiting their partner’s interactions with others and isolating them
- Sending degrading messages meant to make the other person feel bad about themselves
- Pressuring their partner to engage in sexual activity that they’re not comfortable with (digitally, this often consists of “sexting,” or explicit words, images, and videos from either party)
- Threatening to reveal secrets or images given in confidence
Setting Up Boundaries
In order to protect your teen daughter from the effects of online and digital harassment, it’s important to discuss, early on, how to set protective boundaries. Here are some things that you should encourage your daughter to practice:
- Never post anything that you want to be private. Think twice about confidential information that you send digitally. Once it’s online, it’s out of your control.
- Keep personal information and passwords to yourself. Friends and boyfriends don’t need access to your online accounts. Check the privacy settings on all apps and social media accounts to be sure that you’re not sharing more than you want to. This includes information about your address, birthday, phone number, and location.
- Record and received messages that worry you. It’s important to keep track of this information just in case you need to report it or present it as evidence.
- Understand that all online identities are easily fabricated, manipulated, and changed. Whether it’s an unrealistic view of reality that your favorite popstar is portraying, or an online alias assumed by someone who you’ve never met in person, appearances online are not the same as reality. They should always be taken with a grain of salt.