Teen girl on a computerA month ago a video went viral when a 12-year-old girl recorded herself looking very sincere with a cute hat on her head asking if she was pretty. The little girl took the recording, posted it on YouTube, and the rest is history. Every person interested in vulnerable silly little girls modestly dressed with a cute voice responded. The responses were mixed and extreme. Some comments told her how ugly she was, some validated her concern but reassured her, and a few scolded her for doing such an action. The most common criticism asked where her parents were (her mom was especially named) and why were they not monitoring what she does online.

Recently during my segment of answering viewer questions on the local TV station, a 12-year-old sent me the following question:

Dear Mary Jo,

I tape your segments each week. This week I have a big problem. I want to go to a concert. I am an honors student, get only As and Bs, and am very responsible. I want to go to a concert with my friend. My mom says I am too young. I have reassured her that I will call her every half hour, and she knows my friend and trusts her. Will you please help convince my mom that it is okay for me to go? 

Thank you, Kellie.

I answered Kellie's question on the air, because she asks a very poignant question. How can a 12-year-old talk mom into getting her own way? It is obvious that Kellie has no idea what dangers lurk in a concert crowd for a 12-year-old. Kellie is able to use the Internet and Facebook (even though you aren't suppose to be on Facebook until you are 13); she has a cell phone so she can call home to check in with mom; and she believes that if she continues to bargain a bit longer with mom, that mom will acquiesce due to fatigue.

Moms (and dads) are more and more under the gun. They not only have to try to secure their child's safety from the dangers they can see, but they have to try and minimize the more threatening danger—the virtual world these kids belong to. This was my answer to Kellie:

Dear Kellie, 

I want to thank you for watching my segments and trusting me with your very important question. I love your mom. I want to put her face up on a billboard and say, "This is what a mother does . . . she says, 'NO.'" You sound like a smart girl, and you sound as if you have been taught to negotiate and be assertive. These are wonderful traits, and I am glad your mom has helped nurture these skills. There is one trait you must learn a bit more though, and that is respect for "NO" when it is in your own best interest. I agree with your mother. You are much too precious to go to a concert at the age of 12 without a parent. You have no idea, Kellie, of the possible dangers, and no one will ever love you like your mom. I would like you to go to your mother and tell her that you are so grateful you have a loving, engaged mom, and tell her Mary Jo wants to use her for a poster mom. Lastly, if you really want to negotiate further, one thing she may enjoy is if she invites a friend and they take you and your friend to the concert. You can make it a "girls' night" and strengthen the mother-daughter bond that you are so fortunate to have. Thanks for asking my opinion; I am expecting great achievements from you in the future. 

Parenting Is Tough

Being a parent has always been tough, but being a parent today is tough for many different reasons. Our society has become so permissive with the parent/child boundary that telling your child, "No" is increasingly difficult. This is partly due to the parent's lack of engagement in their kid's life. They have no idea what their child is doing. That may not have been necessary years back, but now if the child has a computer in her room, her body may be in her room, but her mind and actions can be anywhere. If parents don't talk to their kids and understand their virtual world, they are missing out on 50 percent of what is going on in their child's life.

For all of you parents who feel overwhelmed by your child's virtual world, this is a quick way to begin to get a handle on it:

  • You need to talk to your kids. You need to find out who their friends are and what websites they frequent. This is a good time to say yes or no to inappropriate sites.
  • Get the computer out of the bedroom and into a large family area. Have a large screen so you can glance at it quickly as you walk by. Computers in a child's bedroom are a luxury (for the child and many times the parents). If your teen has a computer and food in his bedroom, why would he want to come out?
  • Prior to setting up a computer, talk about online acceptable behavior. Digital manners are important with all virtual media.
  • Limit all computer and cell phone use. If a child wants to post a picture, it must be parent approved.
  • Your child should never befriend an adult unless she is related to you.
  • Your child will have difficulty understanding the concept of permanence; this is due to her frontal cortex not being fully developed. As much as you can, underline the fact that nothing is ever truly gone on the Internet. Being a child means making mistakes, but in the case of posting a mistake, it goes on and on.
  • If you are too busy to monitor your child's activity on the Internet or her cell phone, hire a company to monitor for you, such as True Care or SpectorSoft

We cannot save our children from all of the dangers, any more than our parents could save us. We can be proactive though, and we can assert our parental authority and say "NO," even if that isn't the most popular response. Parents cannot be parents and be their kid's buddy. Be your spouse's buddy, be your kid's mom and dad. 

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