Many children today carry cell phones or texting devices, and spend a lot of time texting friends and family. This is a good way to stay in touch with your child, and for the most part texting is harmless and fun. However, there has been a shocking rise in the use of texting to harass and even stalk people. This is known as “Textual Harassment”. Employers are addressing this in sexual harassment policies in the workplace, but children can be textually harassed, too.
Two very grave examples of textual harassment are Demi Brae, who was killed by her boyfriend the day after her sixteenth birthday. Her boyfriend had texted her with such statements as “You know you can’t live without me.” She was stabbed sixteen times. Siobhan Russell was killed by her boyfriend ten weeks after she delivered the graduation speech at her high school. Her parents would later find hundreds of “disturbing” texts from her boyfriend.
In addition to threatening messages, texting can be used to spread rumors and lies about your child, making their existence miserable. We need to take steps to protect our children from the threat of textual harassment.
Talk to Your Child. This is of course the most important thing you can do. If your child is comfortable talking to you, he or she will be more likely to show you disturbing texts or even ask for your help if he is being threatened, stalked, or otherwise bothered by text messages. And don’t think this type of textual harassment is limited to high school or junior high school – if your child has the ability to text, even if he or she is only ten years old, this danger can exist.
Know the Warning Signs. Threatening texts, of course, are a danger sign, but the volume of texts should be noticed, too. It’s not unusual for an angered party, whether it’s a jealous boyfriend (or girlfriend) or a hateful friend, to send over one hundred texts per day. And your child is at the whim of the texter, who can send texts whenever he or she pleases. One danger of text messaging is that it is private, unlike a phone where you might overhear your child fighting or notice that the phone rings again and again and again. A recent study by the Associated Press and MTV revealed that one in four of the participants (ages 14-24) had partners that requested they check in “multiple” times every day with text messages, and more than one in ten demanded a password!
Check how many texts your child is getting per day, and also the times and who is sending the text messages. Your child may not want to show you the texts themselves (akin to reading their diary, perhaps) but as a parent you have the right to know how many text messages your child receives and how often .
What to do. If your child is being textually harassed, photograph or otherwise document the text messages. Notify the police if the text messages are threatening, and contact your carrier to block the sender. You may also want to disable the texting capability on your child’s phone for a little while.