Life as the mom of a tween or teen can bring daily doses of drama. Today's: in the latest twist to good old-fashioned telephone pranks, bullies are heading to the mall, commandeering display iPhones and Blackberries at the stores, and using them to send hurtful, anonymous text messages to other kids.
How do I know this? Because on a recent summer afternoon, I walked in the door to find my teen daughter dissolved in tears. It seems some boys she calls "friends" (and I think there is a case for redefining that label), apparently texted her posing as her latest crush, and asked her out to a movie and dinner.
The "ask" was followed by an all-afternoon flurry of phone calls to her girlfriends to debate everything from what she would wear and whether to straighten or curl her hair, to the appropriate timing for returning the text so as not to appear too eager. But as she shared with me, she was eager: "I was so excited Mom," she said. She knew this knew boy from a neighboring town through her friends, and she told me how nice he was.
Later that afternoon, after all the excitement, she returned the text saying she would accept the date. Seconds later a single word came pinging back: "Prank."
Word travels fast, and within moments she learned that a band of these "friends" had staged Operation Mean Boy out of a local Apple store. Turns out my the text to my daughter was the least vicious of their communiques. From what I would learn, the messages they sent to other kids were downright harassing and bullying.
What I also discovered, after I helped my daughter deal with her embarrassment, humiliation and disappointment, was that beyond anonymous text messaging there actually are new apps for cyber-bullying. The iPhone has an app called the "Ugly Meter," which lets users take photos of faces — their own and their friends', which it then analyzes in real-time. Once the app is done scanning and comparing facial structures, it delivers a score for each on a 10-point scale, from ugly to attractive.
It's hard enough to protect your children from being bullied, so the discovery that a product has been created to do exactly that is disturbing.
"This is another reason I would like to lock my daughter up until she's 30," says Gina A. "It makes me so scared for her, growing up is hard enough to do without all of this."
I agree. Prank phone calls have been around since the telephone was invented. But there's something especially cruel about a band of teenage boys huddled over a test phone at the mall, typing in words whose sole purpose is to hurt your daughter's feelings, or at least to embarrass her real good. It stings.
What do you do to protect your kids from bullying?
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