Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Winning Families: YouTube Teen Brawls

YouTube Teen Brawls Makes Me Ask Parents:
What's Going On?
by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC

I read a disturbing article in the Houston Chronicle recently, and I am hearing about it from other psychotherapists, psychologists and pediatricians. Girls are acting out, filming it and putting it up on YouTube. Oh yes, and it is getting a lot of attention.

The girls are punching, hitting, cursing, pinching, and slapping each other to the ground. The crowd is cheering them on. The crowd is mostly made up of teens, but there are also adults. The health care community understands these girls come from homes where they feel neglected, isolated, abused, and the treatment they receive in these brawls is most likely not any worse than what they receive at home.

According to Lashea Sowell, a probation officer in Beaumont, TX, parents are being urged to monitor their children's online postings since these brawls have become an epidemic of sorts. Sowell went on to say that the fights are the girls' way of getting someone to notice and love them and they don't care if it's positive or negative.

What are we doing to our girls? Clothing companies are making padded bras for eight year olds; parents are buying girls shirts that expose their midriff; parents are allowing girls to talk to them in abusive language. When the schools say that the majority of the classroom time is used to deal with children who haven't been properly parented, what do the parents think? Do parents understand that society is trying to sexualize our youth (especially our girls)?

We all grew up with "bad TV," but neither I nor anyone I know grew up with shows like MTV's Skins. A British writer-producer, Bryan Elsley, who is 49 years of age, and his son Jamie Brittain, who is 25, are the masterminds behind this show depicting sex as a mechanical activity. As Sabitha Pillai-Friedman, director of the Institute for Sex Therapy notes, the attitude in the show equates sex with skateboarding. The sex is casual and never once addresses the emotional aspect of sex, nor the consequences of hurting someone, or being hurt with sex.

Parents don't want to talk to their children about sex, or aren't comfortable talking about it, so the kids turn to TV and media on the Internet to learn. Our kids are learning, but they are not learning intimacy, bonding or responsibility. Kids are turning to "virtual friends" to talk over issues that they aren't comfortable talking about with their parents. These issues range from suicide to bullying. Children no longer feel safe in their home and many of them are not.

We have gone from a generation of parents trying to be their child's friend, to a generation of parents who are unaware of what their children are being exposed to in their own home while the parents are working or sleeping. This issue is not going to go away, unless parents change their parenting style.

According to True Care, a provider of Internet monitoring for parents,Teenager online2 the word "HATE" was the word that generated the most parental alerts. This word became powerful after several bullying incidences as well as suicides. There were other words that the monitoring system alerted parents to, mostly due to the consequences of teens acting out after these words were written.

Here are the top 22 Internet alert words identified by True Care:

  1. HATE (bullying/racism)
  2. PARTY (alcohol/drugs)
  3. STUPID (bullying) 
  4. UGLY (bullying)
  5. X (alcohol/drugs)
  6. DAMN (bullying)
  7. KILL (bullying/racism)
  8. FIRE (drugs)
  9. A** (bullying/racism)
  10. TREES (drugs)
  11. SH*T (drugs/bullying/racism)
  12. BUSTED (drugs)
  13. FREAK (bullying)
  14. POSER (bullying)
  15. DRINK (alcohol/drugs)
  16. ICE (drugs)
  17. LOVE (sex)
  18. BITCH (bullying)
  19. LOSER (bullying)
  20. MONKEY (sex/bullying)
  21. HOMO (bullying)
  22. SEX (sex)
It is sad to think we live in a time where you need to have your child's computer, phone, Twitter account and social network page monitored. Sadder to imagine something happening to your child because you didn't have them monitored and you weren't aware of what was going on in their life.

I believe the best approach is talking with your children. Not once a week, but every day. Have them share their passwords with you, as well as show you the sites they visit.

Talk to your kids about sex. The best sex educator is you. Don't leave it to shows like MTV's Skins to teach your child what sex is. Watch a movie or show with your child and talk about what you think and feel, and listen to them when they tell you how they feel. I don't remember a time when I have known so many great kids. They are our future and our hope. Keep them safe, keep them engaged in your family, let them know that they are essential to the world becoming a better place.
Start TalkingMary 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. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at http://www.maryjorapini.com/.
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