It’s a question parents should be asking themselves, especially with society’s increased use of social media and escalating cases of cyber bullying and Internet luring, said social media expert Nancy Beth Guptill.
Guptill has partnered with the Western School Board and East Prince Women’s Information Centre in hosting sessions focusing on girls and their online behavior.
“Parent’s need to know what’s appropriate,” said Guptill, owner of Sweet Spot Marketing, who is facilitating the workshops.
The parent sessions, which begin Monday night, focus on the use of social media by girls in particular and the impact it can have on their identity, reputation and image.
“We are putting a focus on cyber bullying but we are also looking at it on a broader level. We look at digital footprints and online personas,” said Guptill. “We also look at the youth themselves have to take responsibility for what they’re posting and that what they say on posts online can impact their futures, not just with cyber bullying but employment, career, post-secondary, making teams.
“They need to take accountability for what they are saying.”
Preteen and teenaged girls must be mindful when posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the long list of other social media sites, said Guptill.
When it comes to posting photos online, sending sex-related texts or sexy pictures — commonly referred to as ‘sexts’ — most often girls are the perpetrators, sending the messages to be accepted and liked, she added.
“They will go into conversation with men because of their desire to be liked, loved and accepted. When they get that flattery, they are proactively engaging in that relationship and willing to take the risks, not expecting some of the harm that comes their way.”
But the results of such behaviour can be dangerous and have grave consequences.
In the case of British Columbia teen, Amanda Todd, who took her own life last month, an inappropriate picture she sent to a man was posted online.
Even after law enforcement got involved and Todd changed schools, that picture resurfaced, resulting in online bullying and bullying at her school.
In a gripping and sad YouTube video, Todd, just weeks before she took her life, described via messages written on paper, the impact that sending that photo had on her life.
Guptill said Prince Edward Island is not void of cases of Internet luring and cyber bullying, some of which she will touch on during her information sessions.
“These things happen here,” she added. “One case was luring them to a hotel and slipping them a drug and taking lewd pictures and posting that on Facebook.”
The mother of a teenaged daughter said that the Internet can be a scary place especially for parents who may not have the tech savvy to police what their son or daughter is posting.
“It’s fairly frightening but because of my knowledge I am able to teach a lot and make her aware. That’s the role of parents. They really need to have a good understanding of how to use these sites and just to explain to their girls what they can expect and what to avoid,” she said. “Girls also have a lot of responsibility in ending the situation. They get caught up in the drama. They can change their phone number, they can unfriend people but they choose to stay in these unhealthy relationships. They need to be told to end it.”
Joan Murray, guidance counsellor at Summerside Intermediate School, has been dealing with online bullying and the perils of the Internet for several years at her school.
She said ‘sexting’ has become the “new way of flirting for girls” in junior high, adding that the issue, along with Internet luring and cyber bullying often can be “quite far progressed” by the time school staff and parents become aware of it.
“I feel like it’s still new territory to us,” said Athena Consolidated School counsellor Krista Newman. “I think a lot of parents at the junior high level are kind of naïve of the fact there is sexting.”
Guptill said parents have to set an example for their children and take a look at what they post on their Facebook profiles or send via text.
“There are a lot of parents out there doing exactly what their kids are doing and they are mimicking. It’s a pretty rough comment but it’s true.”
Guptill said when it comes to online posts, people must remember that messages and photos can be easily shared and reposted by others.
And, she added, once it is on the Internet it is there forever.
Remember, what you post:
— Remains forever, once sent you can never get it back
— Can be easily downloaded, shared and reposted
— Is traceable, when people search your name in Google what you post creates an online digital footprint. What will people find about you?
— Girls and their Online Behaviour is Funded by P.E.I.’s Interministerial Women’s Secretariat
— Facilitated by Nancy Beth Guptill and hosted by EPWIC and the Western School Board
— Sessions Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Kinkora Regional High School, Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Miscouche Consolidated School, Nov. 26 at Kensington Intermediate Senior High at 6:30 p.m. and Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Summerside Intermediate School
— Sessions also held being held in the schools with students.