The “Ask Amy” advice column in the Chicago Tribune had a question from parents who had discovered that their 14-year-old daughter had very close online-only contact with an 18-year-old boy. Because I’ve also talked to teens who talk about the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” they’ve never met, I realized this is something parents should be alert to. The advice, from Donna Rice Hughes of internetsafety101.org, may sound strict, but it strikes me as wise and necessary. The obvious answer in my mind would be to ban any further contact. But because a determined teen has ways to circumvent such a ban, she suggests:
“… you should check her texts (unannounced) to make sure they are not sexual and follow her presence on social media.
You should also open this up to the extent that you can get to know this young man whom she cares so much about. At her age, you as parents should make every effort to meet and get to know all of her friends, real world or virtual. This is non-negotiable.
Communicate with him via Skype, phone or email, with your daughter present and with an open attitude. Verify that he is who he says he is. (And does he know that she is 14?) Also connect with his parents to let them know of this relationship. Basically, you want to demonstrate to both that you are present and involved.
Limit your daughter’s phone time to make sure she gets her homework done and participates in family life. Encourage her to get involved with at least one school activity and help her to foster friendships closer to home.