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Written by:  Sharon Miller Cindrich
Date: February 1, 2011

I was so upset when I saw the vulgar language my generally well-mannered daughter was using in her text messages. Help! Most likely, your daughter is using this kind of language because it makes her feel powerful or it is common among her peer group. Online posts, text messages and IM give kids a sense of distance and even anonymity from the messages they send. Mixed with adolescent impulses, kids often say things online or through texts that they would never say in person. While this may be startling to you, this scenario is not uncommon among today's tech-savvy youth.

Even if her texts were impulsive, the reality is that threats, profanity or sexually explicit content created and sent by kids is taken very seriously. Harassing or violent threats are classified as cyberbullying, and children are being severely reprimanded for texts like these. Sexually explicit texts, often called sexting, can also get kids into trouble. Many school districts have developed a no-tolerance policy when it comes to these behaviors and implement serious repercussions for involved students.

Avoid angry lectures and panicked discussions when talking to your daughter about this situation. Instead, stay calm, find a place to talk without distractions and ask open-ended questions to better understand what's going on. Help her realize messages can be forwarded to others, copied, posted online and taken at face value. Then, follow up with these general guidelines:

Restrict her access. Behaviors like this may indicate that your child is not mature enough to use a cell phone, text service or IM without your supervision. Consider temporarily taking away cell phone privileges and monitoring her e-mail or IM sessions. Don't do it behind her back. Make sure your daughter understands that using technology is a privilege, and you'll supervise her communications until she demonstrates responsible behavior.

Consider other influences. Children are exposed to inappropriate language through television shows, movies, video games, their peer group and even at home. Think about the media and environment your child is exposed to, how her language might reflect it, and how you can minimize the negative influences.

Follow your instincts. Keep your eyes open for sudden mood changes, lack of interest in activities, a drop in grades or unusual aggressive behavior. Uncharacteristic behavior, coupled with the vulgar or threatening texts, may be a sign of trouble. Even if you don't see other signs, but have a gut feeling that something is wrong, trust your instincts. Consider talking to a counselor to get to the root of  the problem sooner rather than later.

Sharon Cindrich is the mother of two and author of American Girl's A Smart Girl's Guide to the Internet and A Smart Girl's Guide to Style. Learn more at www.pluggedinparent.com.



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