Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Still waiting for bullying to end by itself?

September 15, 2013

Another make-shift memorial mourns another bullying victim

Another kid pushed to the edge by bullies. Another disheartened sheriff addresses a news conference. “(She) was absolutely terrorized on social media.” Another disbelieving mom tries making sense of life without her little girl. “I never, ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”

This tragedy happened in Florida, though it could have been any place. Fitting, since the internet isn’t really any place but, at the same time, it’s every place. This case of peer abuse picked up fuel on ask.fm before it exploded Monday inside a 12 year’s mind, with the thought her life was worthless. Do ask.fm and other social media sites have any responsibility for the vicious behavior of its users? Yes. Because it happened on their turf. Could they do more to make their sites “safer.” Absolutely. Kids haven’t yet learned to manage their destructive emotions. They flip out of control frequently. That’s why adults monitor what goes on during school recess. Someone has to  keep the peace because kids can’t do it themselves. Is it a perfect system? No, but it helps.

Social media is the largest unsupervised playground, yet where are the monitors? If anyone 15 years ago thought that kids online would naturally treat each other with respect, he’s surely woken up by now. We’re all awake now, aren’t we?

Social media sites need human moderation. That won’t completely solve the problem of bullying, but it will help to lessen it. Parents, find out which sites your kids frequent and what level of moderation (if any) those companies use. Bottom line: Your kids should not be on social media sites that don’t have human moderation in real time. Anything less puts your child at an unacceptable level of risk. Take away your business and see if that gets them to clean up their act.

Pressuring social media sites to take responsibility for the well-being of their tween and teen users, is an essential step. We also have to do our part, as parents and teachers. Our children seriously need an education at home and at school.  Kids are so vulnerable to peer approval addiction, their thinking about right and wrong can get totally warped in the moment. Parents, kids, teachers, school administrators, counselors, coaches, youth leaders, mentors, all of us need to do more to reel in the culture of cruelty. Every day in which we react to a tragedy with a make-shift memorial, instead of the daily work of building schools and communities of compassion and respect, is a day we’ve failed our kids.

Filed under: Cruel's Not Cool,Parenting,Pop Culture,Technology,Teens — Tags: , — Annie @ 5:40 pm
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Stepping back may be hard, but it’s what your kid needs

October 30, 2010

This article was originally written for and posted on SafetyWeb.com. SafetyWeb is a thoughtfully designed tool that provides parents with a means and a context for ongoing family conversations about safety, friendship and how the choices we make, online and off, have consequences.

Thanks for respecting me, Mom.

If your kids are 11-17, congrats! You’ve made it to the Major League of parenting. With little ones, you didn’t need fancy plays since you called all the shots. Now there’s often grumbling in the bullpen and effective parenting is all about nuance and negotiation.

As t(w)eens step up and make more of their own decisions, parents need to gradually step back. But your job’s not done yet! Kids still need us to be plugged in and monitoring their physical, social and emotional well-being. With 3/4 of middle and high school students actively engaged in social media, they need us more than ever.

But when does conscientious monitoring of young digital citizens cross the line and become disrespectful and intrusive? Good question! Hold that thought.

Just for the record, if you’ve got evidence or a vague sense that your child is engaging in harmful activities or is being hurt, threatened or harassed, monitor the situation very closely. Act on your gut. Question your kid at length. Tell what you know, suspect and fear. Dig deep and don’t give up until you get to the bottom of what’s going on. Then offer your strongest support, providing your child the help (s)he needs and follow up!

But what if nothing’s going on? How closely should you monitor then? I often hear from good, drug-free kids, who get excellent grades. They’re indignant because Mom/Dad snoop through their email and cell phones for no known reason. They’re exhausted by a so-called Velcro parent who can’t let go and constantly texts and phones their kids all the day.

In case you’re thinking: “I have the right to check in with my kid whenever I want and to know everything my kid’s doing at all times!” With all due respect, if you don’t have probable cause for poking into the personal exchanges your kids have with their peers, you shouldn’t. All kids, especially teens, have the right to a degree of privacy.

How much privacy? How much freedom? At what age? Depends. I don’t know your child or his track record for making responsible choices when you’re not around. Besides, parenting isn’t a science, it’s an art. We’re all artists, trying to figure out how to use our tools to launch a masterpiece, i.e., a fully functioning young adult. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. But the most effective parents create and maintain healthy boundaries with their kids.

In 21st Century parent-speak the word “boundaries” often means “rules.” As in: Parents set up the rules and the kids (hopefully) comply. This top-down, one-way approach can lead to rebellion in the ranks. Family rules are part of any discussion of boundaries, but the fact is, healthy boundaries are a two-way street. Our personal boundaries deserve respect and so do our kids’. For example:

You politely inform your 13 year old she can’t go out with her friends because she didn’t keep her agreement to finish her homework first. Furious, she blasts you with a choice sampling from her name-calling inventory. Boundary alert! Your daughter disrespected you. She deserves a consequence from you so she doesn’t think for one minute that her behavior was acceptable.

Your 14 year old mumbles something about Coach being a “jerk” for not letting the boy start in tomorrow’s game. Incensed, you grab your phone. Your son shouts, “Don’t! I’ll handle it!” Ignoring him, you call Coach and give the “jerk” an earful. Double Boundary alert! By disregarding your son’s wishes, you disrespected him. You also rudely overstepped your parenting role by intervening between coach and student.

We all want our kids’ respect. That’s why we’ve got to hold them accountable for respecting our boundaries. While we’re at it, we need to respect their boundaries too. Great advice, though not always easy to follow. But like I said, parenting is an art… you’ve got to practice to improve. Besides, we’re not looking for perfection, just progress.

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