The Palm Beach Post. Stopping teen violence starts with parents managing social media (05-21-10)

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The “Scared of school” article in The Palm Beach Post was a revealing, insightful look at the very disturbing trend in teenage violence. Unfortunately, the article didn’t go quite far enough in exploring and exposing the “whys” and the “What can we do?” aspects of this trend.

Rather than focus on school security or law enforcement as a culprit, it may be time for parents to recognize the key role of the home and community as a way to prevent and, unfortunately, exacerbate these issues. One key issue appears to be social media, and parents and caretakers are, or should be, gatekeepers to social media.

Common sense tells us it’s a lot easier to type ugly things into a cellphone or computer in private than it is to say it aloud to somebody, face to face. From there, it often escalates. Most of the recent acts of violence among teenagers had their origins in text messages, phone calls and e-mails that spiraled out of control.

For about $40, parents can purchase Web filters, providing control over every Internet-enabled device in the household, including laptops, desktops, PDAs, and even game consoles, without having to install and manage separate software on each individual device.

Following are some tips for parents that will be published in our law firm’s newsletter. This is at least a partial answer to the “What can we do?” question. With more vigilance, maybe children and young adults like Christian, a 13-year-old who was quoted about the bullying he had to endure, can go to school without fear and intimidation.

  • Educate yourself and your children about social media.
  • Use parental controls to prevent your children from accessing undesirable websites.
  • Do not allow your children to set up social media accounts, such as Facebook, unless you manage the accounts. Request their passwords so you can view the sites.
  • Make sure their accounts are set to provide as little personal information as possible.
  • Join your children’s “friend lists” on Facebook and take note of their friends and the comments and photographs posted.
  • Be present when your children are online to help them navigate any potential negative influences. Having computers in their rooms makes keeping an eye on them extremely difficult.
  • Do not give children phones with Internet-browsing capabilities.
  • Create family time, such as dinner time, when phone use is not allowed.
  • Do not allow children to take their phones to school. If you do allow it, make sure their phones aren’t equipped with text-messaging or Web-browsing capabilities.
  • Require that homework and other duties be completed before phone use is allowed.
  • Remind children that cellphones and other technologies are privileges, not rights. In this regard, cellphones and technology can be great tools for discipline.

“I’m wondering if he didn’t have something going on at home,” Christian was quoted as saying about one bully. “A lot of people should be more aware how often youth violence and bullying occurs.” Wise words. Will our great community listen?

EUGENE K. PETTIS

Fort Lauderdale

Editor’s note: Eugene K. Pettis is managing partner of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm. He has represented school districts and school boards in Palm Beach and Broward counties.