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Cyber-Dating: What Every Teacher, Parent, and Child Should Know The following 746-word article is available for publication in print or online. There is no cost to use the article, but full credit must be included as it appears at the end of the article. Please let us know in advance of your intent to use the article, and when; then a hot link or two copies of the article must be sent to us after publication.
What Every Teacher, Parent, and Child Should Knowby Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
If you knew what I know about cyber-dating, you would be very afraid. You would fear the ease with which a child under 18 years of age can sign up on an online dating site, and what it can do to a child’s life. Although dating service sites are usually restricted to those who are 18 years and older, most of them depend on using a credit as the sole mechanism for determining age. It is difficult to exclude teenagers or a younger child from such sites if they have access to credit card numbers.
In addition to viewing matchmaking sites, teens can also get involved with cyber-sex. In online chat rooms, people describe sexual situations, which may be appropriate for an audience over 21 but it is not for a child under 18.
What parents (and teachers) should talk about with their children/students concerning cyber relationships:
1. Kids do not understand how dangerous it is to be engaging in cyber-sex under a false age. If they connect with someone, they do not understand the consequences of giving out their name and/or school.
2. Anything you say on the Internet, or pictures you show, can go anywhere. You have no control over what happens once you click send.
3. One of the advantages of being online is that you don’t have to tell the truth. Most teens do not have the experience to understand that there are people who are trying to hurt them. These people do not care about your kids, and try to manipulate them into do something for them. Tell your children to never give out their name, address or phone number to anyone online.
4. Remember that when your teen leaves your class or your home, their ability to talk to their online contact doesn’t end. Part of the difficulty of monitoring cyber-dating/abuse is that once your teen is signed in, this person has online access to your child.
5. Children have died because they trusted someone they only knew online. This is one of the best reasons to have a computer only in the family room. Buy a large monitor so you can see it from the sofa. You can stay engaged with your children while still affording them some privacy.
Tips for teens about dating online or cyber-dating:
1. When you are getting to know someone online, ask a lot of questions. It’s important to ask different kinds of questions, because they may not tell you the truth about their age and/or marital status. I have seen many teenage girls meet up with someone who is 30 years old.
2. Ask questions about birthdates, family backgrounds, hobbies, pets, schools, and other subjects. Save these emails so you can be aware of contradictions.
3. Talk to your new friend by phone, too, and make sure your parents are aware that you’re calling him. If something doesn’t sound right, talk to your mom or dad about it.
Keep your family involved so they know about it. If you begin to date someone from another country, make sure you get a video camera and encourage your mom and dad to meet him, too. Only talk with this person when you are in the family room on the family computer. This one small change saves lives.
4. Be suspicious of anyone who pressures you or belittles you for not wanting to meet him in person. You only know this person “virtually.” It’s a relationship, but not a “concrete one.” This makes it more difficult to read the cues we usually can read by seeing the person face to face.
5. Don’t ever give this person money, credit card numbers or any other form of money.
6. When you meet this person face to face, make sure a parent is with you and that she has seen his or her picture prior to meeting.
Breakups with cyber-dating are very difficult. First of all, there was a lot of fantasy and denial in the relationship because your mind filled in a lot of unknowns. Secondly, that person has every email you ever sent. Unlike a face-to-face romance where time heals us because we don’t remember every word the person ever said, a cyber-relationship has text to go with every conversation. Thirdly, a cyber-relationship never really gets closure, so it lingers longer.
It takes a whole family for a teen to have a successful cyber-dating experience. Parents, this is a relationship in which you must stay engaged.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.
Start Talking features succinct yet lively answers, sample conversations, and real life stories to help open the door to better mother/daughter communication. Rapini and Sherman have compiled more than 113 questions girls (and their moms) routinely ask – or should be asking – about health, sex, body image, and dating.