When Internet Pranks Go Bad: Computers as Weapons

Once upon a time, a "practical joke" meant letting loose three pigs in your school after labeling them "1," "2," and "4." That way the teachers would spend all day looking for "3." Hahaha!

With the advent of the internet, one would think that similar things would translate. There have always been two types of practical jokes: the harmless and the harmful, but I don't think many of us anticipated the force that the latter would have when brought online.

On October 16, 2006, Missouri lost a young girl because of an internet prank, and the entire issue came under further scrutiny. The suicide (sometimes called "bullycide") of Megan Meier and those like her has called into question what originally started out as internet "jokes." How can we prevent kids from using computers and the internet as weapons?

What Is Going On?

Chat rooms, e-mail, message boards, MySpace and Facebook comments. There are a hundred ways a teen can be bullied online without a parent noticing. Most parents fool themselves into thinking that they would be able to tell if there were some sort of turmoil within their child as serious as painful bullying or considering suicide.

Don't fool yourself.

Depression can go undetected -- even by the depressed person -- for years. But if a teen is feeling hopeless and hated, the odds of him behaving more rashly than a full-grown adult are much greater.

Some Sad Statistics

What to Do?

What can you do, as a parent? Obviously you can't sit and watch over your teen's shoulder as he peruses the internet and chats with his friends.

  • Don't lie to yourself. Saying, "My child would never do that" doesn't mean that he won't.
  • Try to keep general dialogue open with your teen. I know this is easier said than done, and she might look like she is pushing you away, but to know that even one person would miss her might make her change her mind. Remind her often (and sincerely) that you love her.
  • Put a suicide hotline number on your emergency phone numbers list by the phone (right up there with the police and poison control). Your teen might not want to talk to you about how he's feeling, but a toll-free hotline could talk him out of hurting himself.
  • Watch for the signs. Has your teen lost contact with many of her friends? Does she wear long sleeves on very hot days to cover her arms? Does she spend most of her time in her room, when she used to love the outdoors? Drastic changes, even over several months, can be red flags.

And what about as a friend of someone who might be depressed and/or considering suicide?

  • Try to follow what your friend is doing on the internet. He may not be bullied at school, but public humiliation online can be just as potent.
  • Talk to her. If you're worried, say so. You could even lie, saying that you want to go to the school counselor for yourself, then use the counselor as a mediator. If she seems standoffish or changes the topic, try to bring it up again. You may need to bring this to her parents, as "narc"y as that sounds.
  • Sitting alone in his room on the computer can be a lonely place. And if he feels like other kids are ganging up on him, that will only make the loneliness worse. Bring him outside, include him in more than you think necessary.

New Laws

As each county or state loses a child to "bullycide," they change the rules. "No internet bullying," or "No harrassment or public humiliation." But these laws never make it beyond state borders, if they even make it that far.

How many kids will we have to lose before big lawmakers start listening?

As technology progresses, society and our kids will progress with it. Shouldn't our laws progress with it, too? Aren't the teen years tough enough without adults ignoring a huge facet of a teen's life by leaving him to the internet with no regard for what happens there?

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Do More!

If any of this has rung true with you, this hub should be the least of your research. Did I describe your friend or child? Did I describe you? Either way, there are resources to help you.

JaredStory.com is an excellent resource on all things related to bullying, depression, and teen suicide. It has some very serious pages and some funny ones, and it's also a tribute to Jared High, who lost his life to suicide in 1998.

If you are feeling depressed -- or, worse, suicidal -- you should speak to someone immediately, even if you don't want to talk about it. Call one of the suicide hotlines, and someone there will happily speak to you. They won't make you talk about anything you don't want to, and they're toll free. Many of the operators there have been exactly where you are or have friends that were. There's really no reason not to call. The two numbers I know of are 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-999-9999, but there have got to be tens of them out there.

Know that, no matter what position you are in, there is someone else out there who's been there, too. Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.

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Comments 8 comments

stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

Very serious, good advice. I'm going to link this one to my article about kids and the internet.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 8 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks, Steph! I had a hard time writing this one because there's so much painful information out there. I'll probably edit and add a bunch of stuff once I catch my breath. :) Thanks for linking to me!


o.0 8 years ago

well, it all goes into teaching your kids to have a backbone. if the world is such a scary place, then prepare them for it. im not saying that bullies are a right of passage or anything, but if its a reality, then why not prepare them for it? this definitely lays with the parent first and foremost. a bully(ies) parent(s) should keep him/her in check by teaching them lessons in humility and respect. the bullied's parents should have tought them to know how to take criticism and bullying. its a sad situation and subject, but its just as sad how often parents fail at such basic life lessons. sorry, thats just my two cents.


sumosalesman profile image

sumosalesman 7 years ago from Somersworth New Hampshire

Remember, kids, guns don't kill people, snotty girlfriends do!

I understand teen suicide is at epidemic levels, but they need to learn the world isn't over when their Blackberry gets run over or there's a conversation like the one in the video. If they realize that things can be a lot worse than verbal bullying, and that the people doing it are weak to begin with, I'd think it should give them a fighting chance.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks for the comments, guys. sumosalesman, I do agree that the situation in the video is a little melodramatic, but I think that most teens who consider committing suicide do so for reasons other than a fight with a girlfriend. The ego is a mighty thing, and teasing can chip away at the very base of it, leaving the person feeling absolutely worthless. Parents should certainly contextualize their teen's life for them, especially in a privileged world like the one that exists in so many developed countries, but that is not always enough. They also need to teach their child when to ask for help.


jGaunt profile image

jGaunt 7 years ago from London

The internet can be used for doing good as well as bad things. We just have to trust that more people are out to help than hurt. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't protect yourself.


Adam 7 years ago

this makes me laugh. if she suicide'd over a made up boy, she deserves it. its called survival of the fittest. enjoy the flame war.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Adam,

I am approving your comment only so that I can respond. You are clearly young and very naive and know nothing about psychology. You probably are liked by your peers (or feared) but feel insecure yourself, which is why you feel the need to start "flame wars" with strangers on the internet.

Suicide is not funny or deserved; it's a serious issue, having nothing to do with "survival of the fittest". I truly pity you that you can't see that yet, and I hope that something terrible doesn't have to happen before you change your mind.

Also, regarding your survival of the fittest idea... I can remember a certain German leader who believed the same thing in the early middle part of the 20th century. You should think your ideas all the way through before spouting them to people who are more intelligent and experienced than you are.

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