What the hell are our tweens doing on their little computer phones and Facebooks? Surely they aren't simply changing their avatars to cartoon characters all day. They're being bullied, and bullying. Luckily it's easy to see everything they do online.
This weekend's New York Times Magazine investigates how parents are coping with the scary world of cyberbullying. Teens make mean Facebook pages about other teens; fake MySpace accounts are used to sow discord and create drama; blowjobs are negotiated, promised. Cyberbullying! Even the word is futuristically sinister—it invokes robot warfare.
Many parents have taken to spying on their kids' online communications. According to a study cited in the article, two-thirds of parents admitted to peeking at their kids' cell-phones. Some install Mobile Spy, which "promises to let parents see all text messages, track G.P.S. locations and record phone activity without the child knowing."
Then there's the cyberbullying expert who goes all-out Big Mother:
Dr. Englander installed keystroke logger software on her family computer. She uses it less as a monitoring device than as a means to teach her sons about digital safety. The Post-it on the family's computer reads: "Don't Forget That Mom Sees Everything You Do Online."
She's been reading the NSA's new trendy parenting manual, Trust No One.
We're no cyberbullying authority, but it seems that aggressively spying on kids' Internet usage will only breed bitter, paranoid kids highly skilled at hiding their blowjob negotiations from prying eyes. (We easily broke the password our parents installed on the family computer to limit our Internet time.) These techniques assume the problem with cyberbullying is that it's on the Internet, when the real problem is that it is bullying.
Kids don't even get the idea of cyberbullying. For them, the Internet is "just one tool in an ongoing battle for attention, validation, and status," writes Internet scholar danah boyd. "Unless we find effective ways of getting to the root of the problem, the Internet will just continue to be used to reinforce what is pervasive." Kids are mean; what's really scaring parents is that they now have the nasty text messages to prove it.