Monday, December 22, 2008

Twenty-first century bullies...

A law took effect in Missouri on August 28th that makes it easier for law enforcement to prosecute cases involving bullying or stalking via electronic media, such as instant messaging or cell phone text messaging. An article on I recently read presents some of the facts and background behind the law and why it was passed. I found it extremely interesting, and recommend it to anyone who has teenaged children, or works around teenagers.

This article is scary in a lot of ways. As an IT professional, I understand how technology has made instant communication not only possible, but extremely easy as well. These lines of instant communications are just as useful to families as they are to businesses. It's really no wonder that we see teenagers with cell phones. That link is invaluable to parents.

The Associated Press article posted on is a sobering reminder of the darker side of instant communication. But what can be done to curb the misuse of these technologies? I think it's a two-fold approach that will need to be taken.

First, parents need to be just as up-to-date on the latest communication media as their kids. They need to understand text messaging, instant messaging, blogging, and social networking. Parents also need to be responsible for teaching their kids responsibility when it comes to using these technologies. Just as we're taught at a young age not to hit or call people names, we live in a world where parents need to be teaching online etiquette as well.

Second, I believe companies that are providing these channels of communication should also be providing the means by which to police them. For example, parents who provide a cell phone to their children should have the ability to view the text messages going in and out of their children's phones. Some might see this as an invasion of privacy. I see it as little more than the digital equivalent of a sock drawer search. Unfortunately, until communications and software companies provide the tools needed, parents are locked out, unable to monitor or question their children.

These problems are real, and they are only going to get worse. The solution is with parents and responsible companies. Laws don't have the power to prevent, only the power to punish. Hopefully, the more adults learn, the better we'll do to protect our kids.

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