By: Mary Jo Rapini, LPC.
If you knew what I know about cyber-dating you would be very afraid. You would fear the ease in which a child under 18 years of age can sign up and what it can do to a child’s life. Although dating services sites are usually restricted to people less than 18 years old, most of them depend on using a credit card and this is the sole mechanism for determining age. It is difficult to exclude teenagers or a younger child from such sites if they have access to credit card numbers.
In addition to seeing match making sites, teenage girls can also get involved with cyber-sex. People chat in these rooms and describe sexual situations that may be appropriate for an audience over 21 but it is not for a child under 18 years old.
Tips for Parents and Teachers:
1. Girls do not understand how dangerous it is to be engaging in cyber sex under a false age. If they connect with someone they do not understand the consequences with giving out their name and or school.
2. Anything you say on the internet or pictures you show can go anywhere. You have no control over what happens once you click send.
3. One of the advantages of being on line is you don’t have to tell the truth. Most teens do not have the experience to understand that there are people who are trying to hurt you. They do not care about you, and are trying to manipulate you to do something for them. Never give out your name or address or phone number to anyone you do not know.
4. Remember when your teenage daughter leaves your class or your home her ability to talk to this person on line doesn’t end. Part of the difficulty of monitoring cyber dating/abuse is that once your teen is signed in this person has on line has access to your child.
5. Children have died because they trusted someone they only knew on line and that person took advantage of them. This is one of the best reasons to have a computer only in the family room. Buy a large monitor so you can see it from the sofa. You can stay engaged with your child while still affording them some privacy.
Tips for Teenage Girls Dating On-Line or Cyber Dating:
1. When you are getting to know someone online, ask a lot of questions. This is very important because they may not tell you the truth in regards to their age and or marital status. I have seen many teenage girls meet up with someone who is 30 years old.
2. Ask questions in regards to birth dates, family backgrounds, hobbies, pets, etc… save these emails so you can be aware of contradictions.
3. Talk to your new friend by phone too. If something doesn’t sound right talk to your mom or dad about it. Keep your family involved so they know about it. If you begin to date someone from another country make sure you get a video camera and encourage your mom and dad to meet them too. Only talk with this person when you are in the family room on the family computer. This one small change saves lives.
4. Be suspicious of anyone who pressures you or belittles you for not wanting to meet them in person. You only know this person “virtually”. It is a relationship but not a “concrete one”. This makes it more difficult to read the cues we usually can read by seeing the person face to face.
5. Don’t ever give this person money, credit card numbers or any other form of money.
6. When you meet this person face to face be sure your mom or dad are with you and they have seen his or her picture prior to meeting.
Break ups with cyber dating are very difficult. First of all, there was a lot of fantasy and denial in the relationship because your mind filled in a lot of unknowns. Secondly, that person has every email you ever sent. Unlike a face to face romance where time heals us, we don’t remember what the person said; a cyber relationship has text to go with every conversation. Thirdly, a cyber relationship never really gets closure so it lingers longer.
It takes a whole family for a teen to have a successful cyber dating experience. Parents, this is a relationship in which you must stay engaged, if it is happening.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a featured on TLC’s series, “Big Medicine”. Her monthly column, “NOTE TO SELF”, appears the third Monday of each month in the Health Section of the Houston Chronicle. She is also contributing three relationship tips a week via the Chronicle’s blog – http://blogs.chron.com/momhouston/. Rapini also writes the “Ask Mary Jo” column for Houston Family Magazine. She is also a contributing expert for Seventeen magazine (referenced twice in their 9/08 issue). She was quoted in an article about body image in First magazine (7/21/08).
She is an intimacy and sex counselor, and a certified anger management therapist. A mom with two daughters, her passion is helping all girls become strong women. Rapini is the author of Is God Pink? Dying to Heal and co-author of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. To read more about Mary Jo Rapini or purchase her books, visit Maryjorapini.com.
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