May 4, 2010

Tweens and Cyberbullying

While parents of high-school students may bemoan the amount of time that their teens spend texting or on sites like Facebook, parents of middle schoolers may be even more concerned. The cyberbullying that is happening to tweens can have a frightening impact on their mental health. An emotionally devastating event that can barely be handled by a stable 16 year-old may be enough to overwhelm a 12 year-old who lacks the same level of coping skills.

Peers at this age, too, are more likely to pile on and echo destructive comments online. One of my 8th grade clients recently explained two new phenomena. The first, sending a text bomb, can jam someone's phone for hours with a repetitive message than can be sent thousands of times. I don't think that this is what parents had in mind when they purchased an "unlimited" plan.

The second is even more troubling. On a social-networking site called Formspring, members ask and answer questions about one another. This site allows anyone to post comments about anyone else anonymously. Yes, unlike Facebook, this site allows kids to literally hit and run with no need to identify themselves. For those of us who remember "slam books," this takes the humiliation to a new level. Parents of young children, tweens and young teens might want to cut and paste this link to a recent CNN video to see what's being done by one middle school principal:

Parents who are first buying their pre-teen child a cellphone may want to make the purchase contingent on the child's acceptance that the parent may periodically check texts. At the very least, take a look at these sites and "friend" your tween or teen on Facebook.