Friday, October 12, 2012 8:41 AM
Amanda Todd was a bullied teenager who committed suicide this week. Her story has become headline news due in part to her You Tube video she posted telling her story:
The story is heartbreaking for so many reasons, but I wanted to talk about what we as parents can learn from this. Being the dad to two girls, one that’s 10, I’m very aware of the dangers that the internet holds. When I saw her story, one thing jumped out at me – unmonitored internet access at an early age.
My daughter (then 9) came home from a friends place once and asked if she could be in a YouTube video with her friend. Apparently this friend was allowed to do whatever she wanted on the internet, including posting goofy videos. This set off warning bells and we ensured our daughter realized the dangers and that she was not to ever post videos of herself.
In looking at Amanda’s story, the access to unmonitored internet time along with just being a young girl and being flattered by an online predator were the key events that ultimately led to her suicide. Yes, the reaction of her classmates and “friends” was horrible as well, I’m not diluting that. But our youth don’t fully understand yet that what they do on the internet today will follow them potentially forever. And the people they meet online aren’t necessarily who they claim to be.
So what can we as parents learn from Amanda’s story?
Parents Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Being Internet Police
Our job as parents is in part to protect our kids and keep them safe, even if they don’t like our measures. This includes monitoring, supervising, and restricting their internet activities. In our house we have a family computer in the living room that the kids can watch videos and surf the web. It’s in plain view of everyone, so you can’t hide what you’re looking at. If our daughter goes to a friend’s place, we ask about what they did and what they played. If the computer comes up, we ask about what they did on it. Luckily our daughter is very up front and honest in telling us things, so we have very open discussions.
Parents Need to Be Honest About the Dangers of the Internet
I’m sure every generation says that “kids grow up so fast these days”, but in our case the internet really does push our kids to be exposed to things they otherwise wouldn’t experience. One wrong word in a Google search, a click of a link in a spam email, or just general curiosity can expose a child to things they aren’t ready for or should never be exposed to (and I’m not just talking about adult material – have you seen some of the graphic pictures from war zones posted on news sites recently?). Our stance as parents has been to be open about discussing the dangers with our kids before they encounter any content – be proactive instead of reactionary.
Part of this is alerting them to the monsters that lurk on the internet as well. As kids explore the world wide web, they’re eventually going to encounter some chat room or some Facebook friend invite or other personal connection with someone. More than ever kids need to be educated on the dangers of engaging with people online and sharing personal information. You can think of it as an evolved discussion that our parents had with us about using the phone: “Don’t say ‘I’m home alone’, don’t say when mom or dad get home, don’t tell them any information, etc.”
Parents Need to Talk Self Worth at Home
Katie makes the point better than I ever could (one bad word towards the end):
Our children need to understand their value beyond what the latest issue of TigerBeat says, or the media who continues flaunting physical attributes over intelligence and character, or a society that puts focus on status and wealth. They also have to realize that just because someone pays you a compliment, that doesn’t mean you should ignore personal boundaries and limits.
What does this have to do with the internet? Well, in days past if you wanted to be social you had to go out somewhere. Now you can video chat with any number of people from the comfort of wherever your laptop happens to be – and not just text but full HD video with sound! While innocent children head online in the hopes of meeting cool people, predators with bad intentions are heading online too. As much as we try to monitor their online activity and be honest about the dangers of the internet, the human side of our kids isn’t something we can control. But we can try to influence them to see themselves as not needing to search out the acceptance of complete strangers online. Way easier said than done, but ensuring self-worth is something discussed, encouraged, and celebrated is a step in the right direction.
Parental Wake Up Call
This post is not a critique of Amanda’s parents. The reality is that cyber bullying/abuse is happening every day, and there are millions of parents that have no clue its happening to their children. Amanda’s story is a wake up call that our children’s online activities may be putting them in danger. My heart goes out to the parents of this girl. As a father of daughters, I can’t imagine what I would do if I found my daughter having to hide in a ditch to avoid a mob or call 911 to report my daughter had attempted suicide by drinking bleach or deal with a child turning to drugs/alcohol/cutting to cope. It would be horrendous if we as parents didn’t re-evaluate our family internet policies in light of this event. And in the end, Amanda’s video was meant to bring attention to her plight and encourage others going through the same thing. We may not be kids, but we can still honour her memory by helping safeguard our children.
October 13 – UPDATE
Here’s a link to resources provided by Cybertip.ca to help educate your children on internet safety.