The post is for parents who are worried about their teens’ behavior online. The sexual harassment of teens on social media is now an uncomfortable aspect of our modern society.
Cyberbullies have never had it so easy – at the click of a button or a thumb slide, they can start threatening or making unwanted advances and sexual comments.
This post covers the most worrying aspects of sexual harassment, cyberbullying and grooming via social media and messaging apps.
I list the challenges presented by each of these risky areas. The post then concludes with practical suggestions about how parents can talk to their teens and warn them of the dangers to help keep them safe online. It also covers the mistaken attitudes to sexual violence and relationships and how they should be aiming to connect with the real world rather than the digital one.
This post was first published in The Good Men Project
Table of Contents
Teens are getting the wrong messages about sex and relationships on social media and messaging apps.
That blue light under their bedroom doors. You see it every time you go to the bathroom during the night.
You know that teens need about nine hours sleep and yours are not getting enough because they are always ‘on’. Constantly keeping up, connecting, and loading their Instagram and Snapchat stories. According to some experts, teens are spending nine hours a day online and that’s scary.
What can you do about this as a concerned parent? You know you should warn them of the dangers. Are they aware of the risks of grooming, cyberbullying, and sexual harassment of teens on social media?
Here are a few things you need to know before you even broach the subject and help them to be savvy about the dangers.
If you don’t know what these mean, read on
Have you heard of these?
- Tinder food stamps
If not, read on. A ‘finsta’ is a fake Instagram account to fly under the parents’ radar in swapping photos. Kik is a free texting messenger app but if your teen has an iPad they can also use it on that.
It is used a lot in sexting where nude pictures are received and sent.
Chatting on Kik is private but the problem is that comments on Instagram are not and that is where many teens leave their Kik username, as pointed out by HighTech Dad here. There are no privacy controls on Kik, unlike Instagram which does have them.
If you see Tinder food stamps mentioned, it means that sex is being exchanged for free meals and other goodies. This is mentioned in Nancy Jo Sales’ bestselling book American Girls:Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers
Messaging is fine but when it opens the floodgates of cyberbullying, unwanted advances, threats, and sexual harassment, then it really is time to sit up and do something. Girls are the main victims.
“Snapchat me that p—y if it’s cool” from the Yo Gotti song Down in the DM (Direct Message). If you watch the video here, you cannot help noticing that it has had 49 million views in just two months!
- Girls are pawns in the game and exploited
Girls have to endure shaming and being ostracized when things go wrong. Here is an example from an online forum. You will notice that all girls are referred to as sluts. Enough said.
The challenge for every parent here is to guide them towards validation in terms of real success in life. We need to be able to inspire them with ideals that will help with core beliefs and values, success, and self realization rather than getting likes for a great ‘belfie’. Remind them that ‘belfie’ and ‘belief’ contain the same letters.
“I think it’s just to get attention. It’s to get the likes. Everything’s about the likes.”—Lily, a 14-year-old in Garden City, N.Y.
2. Boys are at risk too
When you teach your boys about consent and respecting boundaries, the possibilities of ending up with assault or rape charges is lessened. As fathers, we know that the rape culture still persists where only 32% of rapes are reported. The seeds of this are sown online and usually start off with sexual harassment of teens on social media. Unfortunately, some dads have not moved into the 21st century yet and will blame their girls’ behavior, rather than the rapist.
“My Dad came and he hit me! Yeah, he blamed me for that completely, that was all my fault, that wasn’t the paedophile that groomed me that was my fault that was, I was the little whore.”—Chloe, aged 12.
Every aspect of life needs our consent. Think of cookies on the Internet. Why should it be so strange that we have the right not to give consent when we feel threatened or uncomfortable? This can make it easier to explain the concept to teenagers.
Consent is a right and mutual.
3. Teens are sexualized from a very early age.
Body image is everything and sex sells. Have you ever wondered why moms and their teenage daughters in the mall dress in the same way? Advertising bombards us with the raw message that the perfect body is the key to happiness. The general mindset is even rather relaxed and underestimates the sexual harassment of teens on social media.
It is useful to watch Cameron Russell’s video here (nine mins) where she paints a less glamorous picture of what it is really like to be a model with a ‘perfect’ body.
“I am insecure because I have to think about what I look like every single day.”—Cameron Russell
The challenge is for us to be able to guide our teenagers in viewing the world with a less sexualized approach.
4. Boys are already gaining male privilege.
Boys learn that they have nothing to worry about. They are never shamed even when they have taken part in the sex act which is on the slut page. The girls get all the blame and boys bask in their male privilege. This is setting a dangerous precedent.
The challenge here is to make all teens, especially boys, aware of the value of sex equality. Dads need to explain that sex in a loving relationship is never exploitative or brutish.
5. Girls are at high risk.
All teens are under such pressure that up to 20% of them will wake up and switch on, rather than miss out on the latest event in their social media jungle. They will never get their nine hours sleep, they so desperately need.
Girls seems to be more at risk of suffering from anxiety and depression. In one survey done by the National Citizen’s Service in the UK (NCS), it seems that girls seek comfort from social media when they are depressed and anxious.
How can parents realistically face these challenges?
We need to face up to the fact that we are in unexplored territory. We are not sure how permanent the damage may be to teens. What we do know is that online sexual harassment is a sex crime although some legal aspects are still not clear.
If we parents take parenting seriously we must encourage teens to move out of the digital world into the real world. Here are some suggestions as to how we can do this.
1. Talk to your teens about this.
Tell them you know about Kik and use a few of the terms we mentioned at the top of this post. A good starting point is to talk about some of the tragedies which all started, innocently enough, with sexting and school hotties. Ask them how they can prevent the same thing happening to them and what to do in an emergency. Encourage them to look at the site working to Halt Online Abuse, Kids-Teens Division. It contains useful advice.
2. Discuss escaping into the REAL world.
Talk about how no one will really respect or even take them seriously on the basis of selfies and belfies. Online activity tends to come back and haunt job applicants. Tell them they will be in the job market soon enough
3. Talk about slut shaming.
Ask them what they think about slut shaming and how they would feel. Show them an article on what happened to Rahtaeh Parsons in Canada who committed suicide. Send them the link and let them read about how she was hounded and taunted and never defended by her so-called friends. Ask your teen daughters if they would befriend or disown a girl in that situation.
4. Ask them about how male privilege works.
Do they think this is right and is it leading to stupid male/female stereotypes? Can they see where all this is leading? Violence against women worldwide has reached epic proportions. Show them the UN figures here.
Ask your boys why violence is definitely not the way to resolve differences or arguments in a relationship. Ask them why they think domestic violence (p.5) is almost always perpetrated by men. Tell them that in a few years they will have to work through real relationships and there will be no digital likes or friends on the scene. Sexual harassment of teens on social media is going to get them nowhere in the real world.
5. Talk about feelings and emotions
Soon they will have to organize real dating. No more hiding behind a screen. They will have to talk to a real person and create a loving relationship.
Ask them about the great things on social media like showing solidarity, friendship and being helpful. This is how social media should always be used. It is a fantastic resource but when misused, it can get out of hand.
The take home message
Worrying about your teens’ welfare solves nothing if you refuse to even tackle the subject. Brushing it under the carpet should be a criminal offence! There are no easy answers here.
Here’s what you can do. Follow the suggestions above and congratulate yourself that you are taking action. You have made a real effort in making their life journey to adulthood more fulfilling and much safer.
By the way, you will still see that blue light under their bedroom doors. Just think that your teen may be hesitating and thinking about what you told them before sending their latest ‘belfie’. You can sleep a little easier.