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.
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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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.