Teens and Internet Gossip

TeenCyberbullyingSocial media sites such as Ask.fm have been in the news lately and the headlines are not ones that parents would one to hear about their teens.  Gossip, whether online or off, can be cruel and harmful to others, especially when a person is already struggling with self-esteem issues.

“Sure enough, I had a parent come to my door and say, ‘Your daughter has been saying some rather nasty things about my daughter on this website.’”

– Patti, Mother

High school students have always spread gossip in the halls, on the walls and on the phone.  Now, it’s on the Internet, too.  On various message boards specific to communities around the country, kids write about whom they hate, whom they think is pregnant or has an STD and record other often hurtful rumors that may or may not be true.

Sixteen-year-old Jessica remembers once when some kids at her school wrote cruel things about her on the Web.

“They were just making fun of me,” she says.  “You know, she’s really ugly, she’s this, she’s that, ba-ba-ba.”

Jessica’s 11-year-old sister, Emma, admits she’s used the Web to write nasty things about another girl, though she regrets it now.

“After a while, you’re like, how could I have been so mean?  Like, why did I do that?” she says.

The other girl’s father eventually became so frustrated with what Emma had said that he came to her door and demanded her mother make her stop.

Experts say gossip on the Internet can be more harmful than the old-fashioned kind.  It’s often anonymous because kids use fake screen names.  It has the power of the written word, so it lasts longer and is taken more seriously.  And, unlikely ugly words on the bathroom wall, there’s no way to scratch it out.

“Online gossip is to hearsay gossip probably what nukes are to dynamite,” says Dr. Ramah Commanday, a school psychologist.  “It can get EXTREMELY raunchy.”

If your kids are victims of online gossip, Dr. Commanday suggests putting the gossip into perspective.

“Point out to them how what’s being said on the screen differs from what everyone knows about you as a person,” Dr. Commanday says.

You can also try what worked for Emma:  Keep your kids off the offensive website!

“When she was using it all the time, her name was on there all the time.  People were writing things about her,” explains Patti Thrift, Emma’s mother.  “Since she has no longer had access to that, she’s no longer a topic of conversation.”

Experts say that any time your child is on the Internet, you should know what he or she is doing there.  Online gossip is just another reason why.

Tips for Parents

Most of us remember passing notes during class or swapping stories over lunch with our friends in middle and high school.  But with more teens accessing the Internet these days, it appears that gossip has gone high-tech.  Teens are using message boards, instant messaging and even email to air out their frustrations – often in hurtful language – about their teachers and peers.

According to an Internet Report from the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, 97% of kids aged 12 to 18 access the Internet on a regular basis.  What they’re doing on the Internet, however, may be surprising.  The U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately one in every 17 kids is threatened or harassed while using the Internet.  In fact, most don’t tell their parents or other adults, and if they do, the adults often don’t know how to stop the online teasing.

Gossiping, whether it’s in the halls or on a message board, more often than not leads to hurt feelings.  According to the Nemours Foundation, if teens spend enough time gossiping and passing on stories they don’t know are true, eventually no one will believe anything they say, even when it is the truth.  Teens who gossip shouldn’t expect to be trusted ever again.  Once friends learn that a peer can’t resist spreading secrets around, they won’t tell him or her anything personal.  And if a teen gossips about personal or important issues, he or she could even end up in trouble at school and at home.  Teachers don’t appreciate students who make it tough for other students to learn, and parents won’t be happy to hear that their child is causing trouble in school.

If you’ve heard your teen taking teasing and gossiping to a hurtful level, it’s time to remedy the situation.  The experts at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota offer the following advice for curbing your teen’s gossiping and teasing:

  • Cultivate your teen’s compassion.  Talk to him or her about feelings – how emotional blows can hurt as much as physical ones.  “You wouldn’t throw a rock at that boy, would you?  So you shouldn’t call him a ‘zit-face’ either.”
  • Give your teen a simple test he or she can use to judge if his or her teasing is playful or hurtful:  “How would I feel if someone said this about me?”
  • Talk to your teen about the when and where of playful teasing.  He or she shouldn’t always resort to sarcasm or jokes at someone else’s expense in order to get a laugh.
  • Examine your own behavior and that of other family members.  Do you rib your children at length, even after they plead with you to stop?  Do you tease inappropriately, that is, about the way people look or the habits they have?  Are you confusing razzing with teaching and discipline – for instance, do you communicate your frustration about your teen’s messy room by calling him “Mr. Slob”?  Make sure that your own teasing (and that of everyone else in your household) is good-natured, not aggressive or manipulative.

As a parent, it is also important to regulate how your teen uses the Internet.  If you know what your teen is doing while online, you can better prevent him or her from visiting message boards where the temptation to gossip exists.  The Media Awareness Network suggests considering the following questions concerning how your teen surfs the Net:

  • Are you involved in your teen’s online activities?  Do you know what he or she is doing and whom your teen is talking to when he or she is on the Internet?
  • Does your family have a set of rules or an agreement for appropriate Internet use?
  • Do you make Internet use a family activity by guiding your teen to good sites and teaching him or her how to do safe, effective searches?
  • Have you taught your teen not to believe everything he or she reads online and to check online information with an adult or with another source?
  • If your teen has her or his own website, have you checked to make sure it doesn’t contain harmful or hurtful information?
  • Have you talked to your teen about responsible online behavior?  Does he or she understand that making threats or harassing others online can be considered illegal activities?


  • Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
  • Media Awareness Network
  • Nemours Foundation
  • UCLA Center for Communication Policy
  • U.S. Department of Justice

Teen Secrets Parents Should Know

Do you know where your teen goes - virtually?

Kids and especially teens are notorious for keeping secrets from their parents, and in today’s world of technology they have a whole new world of ways to keep secrets.

Since kids are also incredibly adept at learning and using modern technology and the following list may help you keep better track of what your child may be hiding.

  1. Surfing the Internet: Today, kids have almost unlimited access to computers, and now computers are small enough to carry, enabling access to the internet literally anywhere. This gives kids easy access to sites parents may disapprove of, not to mention “adult only” sites that only ask the user to click a link stating they are over 18 years of age. That’s an easy button to click if you want to keep secrets from parents. Close monitoring of your child’s computer history, password protection and parental blocks can keep your child away from inappropriate sites.
  2. Downloads: Kids love to download- anything they can: pictures, jokes, videos, etc. These downloads may be putting your computer at risk for viruses that could cause permanent damage. Parents need to know the source of any download and that it is safe, as well as keeping up-to-date antivirus protection on all computers.
  3. Music Downloads: What kind of music are your kids downloading and listening to? Even if the site is safe, the music might not be. Listen to the music downloads. If you are not able to understand the lyrics of the songs, you may want to check them out. You can find an internet music site that has song lyrics available to read. Be careful, though, if you do not allow your child to download certain titles, he/she will probably change the file name of the prohibited song to something allowable.
  4. Uploads: Kids are not very discerning when it comes to what others should or should not know about themselves, and their families. Find out what sorts of pictures, text and other files your child might be sharing on social networking sites or shared folders.
  5. Games: What games are your kids playing? Playstation, X-box, computer games, both individual and interactive-online are filled with violence and “adult” themes. Monitor the games your child buys or rents; most are labeled with age guidelines and parental notices. Also, monitor your child’s history with online games. Install a computer block that allows access to only approved sites.
  6. Friends: Kids have many friends. Some of them, they don’t even know. Facebook and other online social networking sites make it easy for children to fall prey to predatory abusers disguised as “friends.” If your child has a Facebook or other social networking accounts, make sure that you know their username and password, and check in on their activity once in awhile.
  7. Cell phone use: How much time your kids spend on the phone, when they are calling and who they are calling are important to know. Read the itemized portion of your bill each month to double check, and if there is a number you don’t recognize or don’t want your child accessing, have it blocked through your service carrier.
  8. Texting: With unlimited texting capabilities on cell phone plans, your kids can text anyone at any time, day or night. Parents need to know who they are texting and the language they are both reading and using while they are texting.
  9. Abbreviations: LOL, and CUL maybe be familiar “social” abbreviations, and ROLOFLMHO may be used by your kids without any qualms, but ROLOFLMAO might be offensive to some parents. Do you know the difference? Also, new abbreviations are added to the lexicon of technical communication on a daily basis. As a parent you need to be familiar with abbreviations so as to know what your kids are saying. You can check the internet for sites that list abbreviations and meanings.
  10. Plagiarism and cheating: That kids are able to access information which expedites learning in ways never before thought of, is a wonderful outcome of technology today. That kids can also use this information to cheat in ways never before thought of, isn’t.

Kids will be kids, and they will try to “get away” with anything they can; this will never change. But the world of technology changes every day, and if parents remain technologically savvy, kids will have to work very hard to continue keeping those secrets.

Source: Internet Providers

Bullying Prevention: Gay, Disabled, Transgender and other NORMAL Teens

Yes, normal and acceptable, tolerance is taught at home and reaches into our communities.  South Florida has been the battleground of bullying and school violence and it has to stop.

For many years, kids were bullied because their behavior or appearance was perceived by the bully to be different. Now, bullying children who are gay, lesbian, trans-gender or bi-sexual has become more flagrant. The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that of 6,500 people surveyed, 51 percent attempted suicide because of bullying.

Currently, approximately 160,000 children stay at home from school each day because of bullying. It also seems to be socially acceptable to bully anyone who is different, and that includes children who are overweight, underweight or disabled.

Bullying has also encroached on the Internet.

According to Pacer’s National Center for Bullying Prevention:

  • 42 percent of children and teens have been bullied on line, one in four more than once;
  • 35 percent of children have been threatened on line, one in five more than once; and
  • 58 percent of children admit someone has said mean or hurtful things on line, four out of ten more than once.

Things we can do to stop bullying:

1.  Facebook has a “Report” button so you can report bullying. You can also block the sender. Don’t add a friend you don’t know.

2.  Report bullying. Telling is not tattling. If the teacher does not listen, go to the principal, the district, etc. until you are heard. Remember, the bully relies on fear and intimidation to keep his threats secretive.

3.  Keep a record of the bullying, including the location, the bully’s name, and any witnesses.

4.  Some great resources are:

If you have seen bullying or have been bullied, you can e-mail bullying411@pacer.org.

5.  The American Civil Liberties Union can also address the rights of a child or teen who has been bullied.

6.  If you are feeling suicidal, call:

Common sayings: “Boys will be boys,” “Girls aren’t bullies,” “Words can never hurt,” “It’s only teasing,” “Kids deserve bullying,” or “Kids need to toughen up,” are not true. Billy Lucas, age 15, Justin Aaberg, age 15, Tyler Clementi, age 18, Asher Brown, age 13, and Seth Walsh, age 13, recently killed themselves because of bullying. No one deserves to be bullied.

Contributor:  Kim A. Tennant, author of  Thin Club and The Ordinary Extraordinary Boy

Read more.

Parents Universal Resource Experts – Sue Scheff: Who are your teens talking to online?

It is school break, holiday time, and more kids, especially teens, are surfing in cyberspace.  The breaking story of the parents in the UK posing as their daughter to catch predator is an example of the dangers that lurk online.

Chat rooms are one of the riskiest places our kids can mingle in.  It is difficult to monitor all their cyber time, so the best solution is to educate them.  First, parents need to be educated.   Reminder to parents: Order your FREE booklet on Cyber safety from the FTC today.

Here are some Chat Room Safety Tips for Teens:

Source: Assembly of Words

1. Never enter into private chats or private chat rooms with people you don’t know. Most kids know about stranger danger and are taught not to talk to, or give personal details to strangers in the street. The same rules apply, don’t do it with strangers online either.

2. Think before you send a message. Once a message is out there, there is no way to get it back so think before you send the message and be careful about what you let others know about you.

3. Be careful of who you trust or think you know. Online predators specifically target chat rooms as most kids feel safe as they are in the comfort of their own home. Just because you have seen someone’s profile, they are still a stranger.

4. Always use a nickname on your personal profile and don’t include any personal details.

5. Log out if you, in any way, feel uncomfortable and make sure you tell a parent or adult immediately.

6. Stay in control. Never give out personal details in chat rooms, it doesn’t matter how well you think you know them. This includes your name, nickname, address, phone number, password details, email addresses etc. If they are a friend, get their home email address(not an online one) or phone number and communicate personal details that way.

7. Learn how to block and/or ignore people.

8. Never meet anyone you have met in a chat room in person. If you must meet someone in person make sure you discuss it with an adult so that they can make sure its in a public area and with an adult present.

9. Learn how to save parts of your chat room conversations you may want to show your parents or report to the authorities.

10. Look out for your friends. Never use their information instead of yours and make sure they follow the same guidelines. Let your parents know if you think your friend is in trouble or out of their depth.

11. Know how to report any suspicious behavior to your chat room provider and tell your parents.
Things like inappropriate comments, asking for personal information, talking about things that make you uncomfortable should all be taken seriously. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of any inappropriate behavior online, it is not uncommon and it is not your fault, so please tell an adult.

If teens and kids follow these simple steps they will significantly reduce any potential chat room dangers for themselves.

Be sure to be ready for 2010 by making a resolution to learn more about Internet safety and your family.

Parenting 2010 – Getting ahead of your kids technically! T.A.L.K.

Also on Examiner.

Parents Universal Resource Experts – Sue Scheff: Keeping Kids Safe in Cyberspace

resized_ys_logo_lrgDuring National Cyber Safety Awareness Month we need to take the time to find out more where our kids are surfing online as well as what services are available to help parents keep their children safe.

Mary Kay Hoal
is the founder of Yoursphere which has been featured on many media outlets including CNN, Fox and Friends, ABC News and more. If you haven’t seen or heard about Yoursphere, I am confident you will soon.

Take a moment to learn more Mary Kay Hoal and what she has created to help keep your kids safe online today.  She generously took time to answer questions and offers valuable and informative tips, advice and resources.

Why did you create Yoursphere?

The Internet and social media sites offer many benefits to our children. It’s an essential part of their culture. I created Yoursphere because I found out first hand, after immersing myself in a myriad of social media sites, (Myspace, Facebook, Hi5, Friendster, Sconex, Bebo, My Yearbook, Tagged, Teen Spot, etc.) that none of the social networking sites put the safety and well being of our kids first. That’s because these sites were created by adults, for adults. I found an extremely coarse culture with interaction, that if there wasn’t a computer and keyboard involved, the activity would be illegal, immoral, unethical or unacceptable.

Time to stack the positive benefits of social networking in kids and teens lives against the negatives.

Part I. The Truth Revealed: Internet and Social Networking Facts.
Part II. The Truth Revealed: Internet and Social Networking Facts.

How does Yoursphere work?

We simply apply common sense, and model the Yoursphere community like the real world for kids and teens. That means, unlike any other social networking site:

•We require parental consent
•We verify the identity of the parent providing consent
•We verify the parent providing consent is not a registered sex offender*
•We limit participation to kids and teens through age 18**
•We use technology and human oversight to proactively protect the kids from inappropriate content, or from digitally tattooing themselves***
•We leverage the expertise of our Chief Security Advisor who worked for the Department of Justice tracking online anonymous sexual predators as well our law enforcement team with expertise in internet crime
•Friending is modeled after the real world. Kids under 13 can friend those in the same age range, teens can friend teens. (A 12 year old girl typically would not be having a private conversation with a 17 or 18 year old unless a sibling so we don’t allow online. Siblings of course can be friends.)
•Parents of children 12 and under can access any content their child has posted. Text, video pictures through their “parent dashboard” where they can manage their family account. (i.e. add another child, suspend membership, review content.)
•Like the real world, kids connect based on shared interests: sports, music, fashion, academics, performing arts, travel, animals & pets, art and photography, etc.
•We engage kids and teens in positive and purposeful activities.

Yoursphere was developed with the help of kids and teens across the U.S., so once inside the community, it is centered around their interests.

-We allow kids to create their own “spheres” or web communities based on their unique interests.
-We have member only scholarships to support their aspirations
-We have weekly and monthly contests.
-We have a credit/rewards program, where all members are rewarded for their positive interaction within the community and then they can redeem their credits for real-world rewards (movie tickets, ipod, gift card, music, shopping spree)
-We feature a quarterly “young writers contest” and have a team of kid and teen paid contributing writers.

•We support on the positive in kids through the Yoursphere culture while encouraging good online citizenship
•We educate kids about online safety with daily site internet safety reminders
•We provide parents information about internet safety issues and provide them tools for discussing them with their kids through my blog.
Parents are kept in the loop about what’s going on in the community through our monthly parent newsletter. Because no child “snuck on” to become a Yoursphere member, I felt it was important that parents had something to talk about the site with their kids helping to make it a shared experience in some ways.

*(There were nearly 100K registered sex offenders on Myspace and reportedly nearly 40K on Facebook. The U.S. is the only country that does not protect the identity of its sex offenders.

The rest of the world does, so the “true number” of registered sex offenders trolling these sites is actually unknown. As a result, Yoursphere.com is exclusively for kids and teens from the United States.

Yoursphere.co.uk is for kids and teens in the UK and Ireland so that we can maintain the highest level of security.)

**(As in the real world, kids typically socially interact/hangout with kids their own age, and not adult strangers. Three of my five children will be 18 their senior year in high school, hence the age. Once on their way to college, we’ve done our best as parents to raise them, instill our values, and have given them adequate time to mature so they are prepared what “what awaits them.”)

***(Example: Technology is used to scan photo images. If a “can” for example comes up, that can is flagged. We determine that it’s soda vs. an alcoholic beverage. Or hand signals, we use human oversight to read the signal to determine if appropriate, or not.)

Why do you feel it is important for parents to consider Yoursphere?

Parents want the best for their children. They care about their children’s health, well-being and safety.

Parents are typically involved in every aspect of their children’s lives ranging from: where the family lives, to the school their child attends, the church or youth group they attend; to knowing their child’s friends and even parents; to the after school activities their kids participate in. Parents do their best to make sure all of these aspects of their child’s life are positive, safe, supportive, educational and reflect the values of their family.

Unfortunately, parents haven’t been able to make a positive choice for their kids/with their kids online. They’ve been left with no alternative. Frankly parents today for the most part are like me three years ago.

They just don’t know what’s going on in social media communities. And social media/social networking is really in its infancy. Checking the browser history, knowing your kids passwords, and installing protective software on the computer is all good. It just isn’t enough.

Parents need to protect their children from both from the people that intend their children harm and the culture that awaits them on these social networking communities. All of these sites were created by adults, for adults.

Until Yoursphere.com, there has been no solution. We can parallel what we’ve learned in other industries when it comes to children’s safety and the changes that have been made to correct the problem. Key to solving every problem includes education and an offered solution.

Education+Solution = Resolution to Problem*

-Automobiles: we learned people die in accidents; we educate and require seatbelts to be worn; require children in booster or car seats.
-Household fires: safety education; buy smoke alarms and replace the batteries.
-Bicycles: Educate on dangers, require kids to wear helmets.
-No weapons in schools: Educate re. dangers. Zero tolerance policy, alarm detectors.
-Swimming: teach your kids to swim.
-Teen Drivers: Pay for driver’s education; rules/restrictions have been set up for teens until they have enough experience to drive on their own.
-Movie rating system: Education about content. Requirement for rating . PG, PG 13, R, R17
-Music: Education of content. Parental Advisory
-Video Games: Education of content. Rating System
-TV content. Education about content. Limiting viewership.

*I recognize no solution is every 100% guaranteed. That’s specifically why we refer to Yousphere with the words safety-first. I would be remiss to say “safe”.

What makes Yoursphere unique?

Yoursphere was created on the inside (features, functionality, etc.) with the direct involvement of kids and teens across the U.S. and abroad. (I wanted this site to be one kids loved.) We have a teen advisory board. http://yoursphere.com/what-we-re-about
The site content is created by kids and teens, for kids and teens. (We even have a team of paid contributing young writers. http://yoursphere.com/what-we-re-about ) Membership is limited to kids and teens through age 18.

There is not another site that deploys all the same proactive safeguards that Yoursphere does. Yoursphere has arguably set the industry standards for kids and teens safety online as evidenced by the fact that we’re the sole-youth only site approved by The Privacy Vaults Online Safe Harbor of the Federal Trade Commission.

Are their fees involved?

Every membership to Yoursphere.com is free for the first 30 days. Because Yoursphere.com chose not to monetize itself by attempting to rely on advertising revenue (often age inappropriate), nor by deploying applications that exploit the privacy of minors, yes, we charge a nominal fee of $39.95 per year (.10 per day), or $4.95 a month (cancel at anytime) in order to afford the safeguards we have in place.

In addition, the fee allows us to further extend our support to those that also positively impact the lives of youth through our fundraising program for schools, youth groups and non profits. (We provide 40% or $16 of each membership back to those organizations.)

What motivates you?

•My children.
•My family.
•Parents like me. They love their children more than anything in the world; are concerned about the internet, but they haven’t known what to do and feel overwhelmed by technology.
•My faith. I believe in good and bad. Right and wrong. And while I may not have intended to be here, launching a business, educating others about the issues, providing a solution, I am here now. I have the professional background and skill set to do what I’m doing. I found it my obligation to change the status quo. These are our children! There’s nothing more important in the world then each and every one of them.

For more info: Visit Yoursphere.com and Follow Mary Kay Hoal on Twitter.

Parents Universal Resource Experts -Sue Scheff: Mothers Against Internet Predators

mad momOctober is National Cyber Safety Awareness Month. It is a time for parents to become educated on where their kids and teens surf online. Who are they chatting with? Who are they sending photo’s to? Where are they posting information?


During this month, I am going to bring you different valuable resources, websites, and tips to help you become more familiar with Cyber Safety and Cyber Protection.


In Broward County, Florida, we have an organization, Mothers Against Predators. This group is put in place to create an awareness of what lurks online as well as helping you protect your children. Internet Predators do not discriminate, any child is at risk if not properly taught about how to stay safe in cyberspace.


Learn more:
Mothers Against Predators is a non-profit corporation whose mandate is to promote legislation and education to facilitate the creation on an effective defense against Internet predators. Through outreach programs and advocacy groups, M.A.P. will educate children and parents on effective ways to be protected from Internet predators, and how to properly report inappropriate or illegal behavior. M.A.P. works in partnership with local and national elected officials and law enforcement to create effective legislation and laws to provide a defense against Internet predators.
Visit their website today and learn more: http://www.wearemap.org/index.html
To learn more about Internet Predators, please visit The Kristin Helms Foundation


Also on Examiner.com

Parents Universal Resource Experts – Sue Scheff – Social Networking for Kids

kiddzchattIs your child, under the age of 13 and wanting to be part of Facebook or MySpace?

Check out a Social Networking site for younger kids to chat safely and parents to be involved.
Visit KiddzChat http://www.kiddzchat.com/default.aspx and explore the many features that your kids could enjoy and you could feel at ease.