I’ve been reading about ask.fm lately. The buzz is about teens that have committed suicide after being bullied on the site. For all the teens that resort to suicide, often after being urged to kill themselves by anonymous bullies, there are many, many more that are living in fear and despair. Anonymity allows teens to act on their worst impulses. I couldn’t help but think of the soul-crushing guilt or loss of conscience that the bullies must feel when they face the very real consequences of their cruelty. Heaven forbid, that my child, or yours, could be that bully. Chicagonow.com has posted an article telling us what we need to know about ask.fm, including the following:
- As is true of Facebook and Twitter, you must be 13 to use it.
- Ask.fm allows anonymous objectionable content, which it does not monitor.
- Therefore, it’s being used for the worst type of bullying and sexualized content.
- Users can’t increase privacy settings, as you can with Facebook and Twitter.
- Ask.fm content can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, increasing the spread of the bullying.
- “A user can disable his/her account, even if the password is forgotten.” Kids have been known to lie about that.
- One user can block another, but the person can still view any interactions under any profile.
Action YOU can take: Find out if anyone is posting hurtful or sexual things. Ask if these “friends” are friends in real life. It’s OK to insist on transparency…sit down and take a look at your teen’s account. Advise your teen, “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your family to see.”
This article from TechCrunch reveals a phenomenon that isn’t all that surprising, although it is something that I am sure we all hoped wouldn’t happen to such an extent. Sexual pics, including those teens take of themselves, are reposted. Of course, that’s what we all feared would happen and was one of the reasons we told teens not to take such pictures in the first place…but was there any evidence that it was actually happening?
Now, the Internet Watch Foundation has given that evidence. Up to 88% of teens’ sexual pictures are reposted by “parasite websites,” even if the original picture was in a “safe” place. Teens may feel a false sense of security when they share an image via a social network that they think is secure, but once a digital image exists, in can be nearly impossible to erase entirely. So whether or not you have already discussed the dangers with your teen, talk to them again about protecting themselves by never taking sexual pictures in the first place. There is simply no safe way to take, store, or share such images!
And one more thing to keep in mind and discuss with your teen — why? Why take such pictures? The two main reasons that come to mind are peer pressure and the desire to be cool (as defined by a culture rife with pornography). So when you talk to your child, make sure they understand that no one, not even a boyfriend or girlfriend, should ask them to take sexual pictures. If someone asks them to do so, report it to an adult. And if they think it is cool, help them to understand that sexuality is not a tool to be used for fortune, fame or respect. That might be difficult in today’s age, but we must stop defining people by their sexuality and start holding up role models who exemplify something other than sexual appeal or prowess.
Do you know if your daughter or son would recognize when a relationship is in danger of becoming abusive? A personal story I tell to teens is about the time I was physically abused by a boyfriend. I had the good sense to break the relationship off at the first incident, but in retrospect, there were warning signs that the physical abuse was coming. I saw my boyfriend lose control of his temper with his family, and he had already begun verbally abusing me before the incident of physical abuse.
February is Teen Dating and Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and I found myself wondering how we can prepare our sons and daughters to recognize unhealthy patterns in a relationship before it gets to the point of emotional or physical damage. I found a wonderful document, written to and for teens, about the warning signs of potentially abusive relationships. It’s put out by the American Psychological Association. I would urge every parent to print this out, and ask their teen to read it and then discuss it together. Every teen (guy or girl) will either be abused, or know someone who is. Let’s equip them to be strong and courageous in insisting on being treated with respect, and be advocates and wise guides for their friends who may be suffering an abusive relationship.
A new survey of almost 2,000 middle and high school students found that “56 percent of the girls and 40 percent of the boys said they had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment during the school year.” And that’s just one 9-month school year. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that over a period of 6 or 7 years (middle school and high school) virtually all of our teens experience sexual harassment in some form. What does this harassment look like? It could be anything from physical groping, to crude comments, to being confronted with unwanted sexual images, to being the subject of unwelcome sexual rumors.
The article discussing the research also included the report’s recommendation that “all schools should create a sexual-harassment policy and make sure it is publicized and enforced. It said schools must ensure that students are educated about what their rights are…with special attention paid to encouraging girls to respond assertively to harassment since they are targeted more often than boys.” The students themselves wished that there were a way to anonymously report incidents of sexual harassment. A proactive step that you as a parent could take, might be to call your student’s school to see if any policies or procedures are in place to handle incidents of sexual harassment…and to find out if the students are both educated about their rights, and informed about how to report such incidents.