Teenagers do things behind our backs. They hide things from their parents just like we did. But suppose they’re involved in cyberbullying? Even if they’re not the original perpetrator, suppose they simply get drawn in to pile-on? Are we liable when they’re cyberbullies?
Sometimes, people make nasty, sarcastic, critical remarks to a friend about someone else but they don’t expect it to get forwarded to everyone at school. Lesson learned, I hope.
But how about our children being relentlessly nasty and vicious to everyone they don’t like on social networks? How about if they tell people to kill themselves?
How about our children sending obscene remarks to lots of people under the name of someone they don’t like? How about our kids asking people to pile on to call someone they don’t like obscene names? How about our teenager setting up a fake Facebook page in the name of someone they don’t like, filled with altered pictures of the person, a fake history and rants about all the other kids at school?
About 50 percent of teens with internet access report having been bullied online. About the same number report doing the cyberbullying. More than one in three report having received cyber threats. Only 10 percent of kids who are bullied tell their parents. Only 15 percent of parents know what their kids doing online, especially on social networks. Of course, these numbers are rough estimates, but in my experience, they’re low estimates.
If these things are done at school, schools will get involved. What might a permanent record of these actions do to your teenager’s chance of getting a good job or getting accepted into college?
If the cyberbullying is done from our home computers, the school will probably not get involved. But the police will. And our liability as parents will be increased.
Notice, I didn’t approach cyberbullying as a moral wrong. We grownups know that. But how far would we go on moral grounds to stop cyberbullying by our children if that meant a pitched battle with angry teenagers. They will object because we’re spying on them or we’re stopping them from joining some “in-crowd” they desperately want to belong to.
So I approached stopping cyber bullies by asking about our liability.
Suppose the bullied kids and their parents go to the police about our children as a cyber bullies? Do we want the police coming to our door? Do we want to defend ourselves by saying that we didn’t know?
Suppose the targets file a suit against our children and against us for damages? Even if we win, how much money will the lawyers cost? How will we stand the publicity on every television and newspaper in town? Suppose it goes nationwide?
The lines of responsibility are in flux now because the area of law is so new. We don’t know where a judge or jury might come down in our case.
Suppose the target of our children’s venom commits suicide or gets a gun to wreak vengeance? Suppose we could lose our house in a civil suit? Suppose we could go to jail? Does that change our willingness to limit the freedoms our children want when they’re living in our home and using a computer we bought?
The bottom line is that we’re responsible for our children. They live under our roofs. We must know what they’re doing. They don’t have privacy.
If we don’t set limits when they’re younger, they’ll grow up to be teens who think they can do whatever they want. They’ll know they can wear us down if we try to limit them. Even though we may pay the price.
If they’ve become teenagers already who think they’re entitled to do what they want, we’d better set boundaries before they do something that can ruin our lives as well as theirs.