Talk, talk, talk to your kids about good texts and bad so they understand what’s ok or not. And if you suspect something’s not right … take action.
Growing up is all about facing difficult social situations — bullying being the most severe form of this — whether at school or play, but today text bullying is an issue. And with everyone and their little brothers using cell phones all day long, how does a busy parent know if her kids are safe?
Plenty of parents take matters into their own hands by monitoring their kids’ cell phones, but Larry Rosen, author of Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation, says proceed cautiously before spying on your child’s texts in order to keep the trust between you and your kids in tact.
“I am adamantly opposed to any form of technological monitoring except in extreme cases, and as a last resort, after all other efforts have failed,” Rosen says. He advocates talking frequently to your kids about good versus bad texting (using foul language, being cruel to others, or even sexting) in order to keep them safe and alert to problems … and to keep them talking to you. If you notice that your child’s behavior has changed, though, you may need to take action.
Warning signs that something’s not going right in your child’s cellular world:
• Unexplainable injuries
• Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
• Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
• Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
• Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
• Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
• Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
• Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
• Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
What to Do:
1) Draw out your child in a non-threatening way to find out what’s happening.
Maybe your child is being teased, called names, or repeatedly shut out of a group, or maybe your child has been threatened. If you’re lucky enough to have a trusting relationship, he may come to you about it first. Your first step — after getting your breath back, of course — is to listen to the facts, all of them. Don’t flinch. When you listen, you take a crucial first step in helping your child overcome victimization.
2) Next, ask your child if he will show you the texts that hurt his feelings.
This will give you a better picture of what’s going on and will let you know if it’s just simple relationship stuff that goes on in the course of growing up or worse. If it’s worse and you know the source of the bullying (a school mate, perhaps) then …
3) Tell your child’s teachers and principal.
Tempting as it may be to withdraw, don’t. No school wants bullying problems, so establish a relationship with them. Identify a staff person that you trust. Your school is not the enemy; bullying behavior is. Make the school your ally.
4) If it’s not someone from your child’s school, then ask your child how he knows this person.
If you know the person or the person’s parents, make contact yourself, but at all times remaining calm and in control.
5) If you are convinced that your child has been hurt via harmful text messages but he refuses to show you his cell phone, consider monitoring the phone so you can keep him safe. Companies such as MyMobile Watchdog offers a downloadable parent control application that monitors everything on your child’s phone. Purchase what your cell phone carrier service offers in blocking options (they all offer plans).
No matter what, strive to have a healthy, honest relationship with your child from the start of his cell phone life — and support his use by keeping up with his activities, friends and actions. Use parental controls as a back up for YOUR solid parenting.