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Sexting, Cyber Bullies and Textual Harassment

National Cyber Awareness Day reminds parents, teachers and youth mentors the importance of talking about cyber bullying, sexting and more.

The odds are high that your child will eventually be the victim of cyber bullying. According to Safe America, 50 percent of teens admit to being bullied online or by text message. Our youth don't have to be victims of cyber bullying or crime if parents and adults teach kids how to cope. 

Megan Meirer, 13, was a victim of cyber bullying. Meirer suffered low self-esteem. A classmate’s mother, disguising herself as a cute boy that was home schooled, befriended her on Myspace. The two became close through their online relationship. Then, one day, the mother sent a message that read, “I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends."

After that message, Meirer began receiving harassing messages from other individuals on Myspace. The messages said things like, “Megan Meier is a slut” or “Megan Meier is fat.” The cruel messages took a toll on Meirer. On Oct. 16, 2006, Meirer took her own life.

Sexting, (sex+texting= sexting), refers to texts, either sent or received, that contain sexually explicit language or photographs. Although those involved view sexting as a harmless act, the not-so-private messages or pictures usually end up in the wrong hands. Sexting can often lead to cyber bullying, or worse, criminal charges.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution featured a story about a teen who began sending provocative photographs of herself to individuals she befriended online. After finding the photographs online, classmates sent the photograph through most of the student body. A classmate notified a teacher, but it was too late. 

Talk to Your Kids

What your kids need to know is that everything communicated, whether through cell phone or online, is permanent. Explain to your child that trust perceived at the beginning of a relationship, when the message is sent, can change. Trust is often broken when a relationship ends, and their sexual messages or photographs can end up distributed to classmates, neighbors, and, realistically, worldwide on the Internet. 

Your children need to know that the information may end up becoming public. To do this, individuals need to realize that everything they send or post will not remain private; think before texting or posting because in cyberspace, there’s no delete button. Do not give into anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Nothing is truly anonymous.

Shawn Edgington, author of The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook, and Social Media: Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World, is America’s leading “Textpert” and cyber bullying prevention expert.

According to Edgington, almost half of our youth are experiencing some form of online harassment, and 71 percent of our teens receive messages from strangers online, and 39 percent of teenagers admit to sending or posting sexually suggestive messages (aka sexting). It’s also a fact that most kids don’t tell anyone about what’s happening to them in their online world, she said.

The video accompanying this article will help parents recognize the warning signs of cyber bullying, sexting, and textual harassment, and monitor your child's digital use.

Cartersville Patch encourages parents to be involved and informed about their child's use of digital technology. Ask questions. Monitor your child's use. It builds a framework that allows families to maximize communication about the digital environment while minimizing your child's risk. Your child's health and well-being depend on it.

As adults and parents, it is in our hands to create a generation of responsible and ethical digital citizens.

melissa May 18, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Sexual texing is way out of hand ......even in the adult world. Its like guTs all people know how to do. If you start texing a man the send me pix.is always in the top 5 questions. I know it has to be extream in the teenage yrs . An the girls are more than happy to send bareall texes. Really keep trying to tell your kids. Boys an girls. Them girls are just as bad or worse than the boys ...
Brian May 18, 2011 at 02:05 PM
I work with kids and I tell them that if they send something to another person, text, picture, whatever, assume the entire world will see it. Kids operate under the mistaken assumption that their communications are private but that is almost never the case. When we hit the 'SEND' button, we give up control of whatever content we've just sent, period.
David May 19, 2011 at 02:26 PM
I use www.socialwebwatch.com to monitor my (5) kids on Facebook. Its a great service and I think every parent should be using an automatic monitoring program. My wife and I use to monitor the kids ourselves by logging on to their accounts... at first we did it daily... but found we did not have time to do it daily... sometimes only once per week or so. Social Web Watch online program does not require software to be downloaded and send us a daily email when it detects a problem or alert. I love it because I feel assured our kids are being monitored and I get to discuss the alerts with them. Its a great 'Trust but Verify' program
Brande Poulnot (Editor) May 19, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Thanks for the tip David. I'll have to keep those in mind when my little get a little older.

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