It’s not that often when something comes along and really just tears my heart out and leaves it laying in a pile on the ground. However, Paula Kiger’s article about Cyberbullying really struck a chord deep inside of me, one that resonates all the way out and puts me in a foul, violent mood. Her message was a positive one, though, about addressing bullying as the emotional garbage that it is, and teaching these kids who are natural leaders to use that in a more positive way. I felt that I should share Paula’s message with the rest of the world, especially since my general message on handling what I consider criminal harassment is these little bastards all need beaten to death on live television, preferably during American Idol.
Of course that spawned a conversation on Twitter about what parents can do more involved in their kid’s online activities, and how they can check what their kids are doing as the little heathens that all teenagers are.
Now, for the record, I don’t have kids, don’t plan to have kids any time in the future, and as a general rule of thumb am only around kids that have a hard time feeding themselves, let alone terrorizing a fellow student as the alpha of some sort of feral adolescent hunting pack.
What I do have, though, is an intimate knowledge of internet culture and a first hand experience of being both the wounded antelope and they ravenous hyena.
Also, a paranoid idea that if we don’t get a handle on this now, someday these kids will bully each other with the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
How to Keep Your Kid From Being a Dick Troll
The basic ideas are all similar to any other form of cyber-security. You create a menacing presence that will haunt each user until the very idea of doing something against the rules causes them to have panic attacks and bed-wetting nightmares. In this scenario, you are the all-knowing, all-seeing systems admin, and your kids are the hapless network users. Of course, unlike most systems admin, you are probably capable of feeling remorse and other human emotions, so the analogy is far from perfect, but still, keep the old verse in mind, “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child.”
First: Make You Omniscient Presence Known
If your kid has a Facebook, friend them. If they have a Twitter, follow them. MySpace, Google Buzz, even LiveJournal, anything they’re on, you need to be on, too. Google them by name, find out what screen names they regularly use and Google those. Be everywhere they go online, and they’ll just start expecting you to know what they’re doing. Once they’ve learned that you know everything about them, they’ll start thinking about what that means. If you have kids who are either kinda dumb or are the rare genuinely good kids, then this is as far as you will have to go. If they are devious, evil little bloodthirsty bastards, like most teenagers, they’re going to start trying to create their own secret dummy accounts to send you on a wild goose chase.
That’s where step two comes in.
Second: Track them with a Key Logger
When you’re doing systems security, and you have a user that has become particularly sneaky about using your network to pirate television shows or play World of Warcraft, you have to take a bit deeper step. If you really want to know 100% of what your kid is doing or saying on their computer, you need to install a key logger.
Basically, this is a program that keeps track of everything your kid types into their computer or clicks with their mouse.
Now, you might be telling yourself that this is an intense invasion of their privacy. However, I’d like to remind you of 3 things:
- People under the age of 18 are not legally people in the United States and thus do not own a right to privacy.
- If they were trustworthy, responsible citizens worthy of their own privacy, you wouldn’t need to install a key logger on their computer to begin with.
- There is no situation in which you will not benefit from being able to black mail them later in life.
So, now that you’ve accepted that your child is a criminal delinquent, you need to ready yourself emotionally for what you’re going to find on your kid’s computer, because it isn’t going to be pretty. Best case scenario you’re going to find out that they’re writing some horrendously bad poetry and badmouthing you for being overbearing. Hopefully you won’t find out that they were in the hit-and-run murder of a classmate with a group of friends that is being systematically hunted down now, even though they swear that only the five of them know what happened.
Third: Parental Content Filters
There are hundreds of them out there for free, and most of them all work the same. You can also set up your router at home to cut off internet access to the mac address of their device at a certain time. Some cellphone carriers will allow you to do the same thing, shutting off access to the phone unless its calling a certain number (or receiving calls from certain numbers). Network security guys didn’t just invent these things to be a bunch of dicks, they knew that they would work.
If you shut down someone’s access to the internet, it’s hard for them to cause problems there. Besides, it will encourage them to do something other than waste away their lives reading bawl threads on 4-Chan. Too many of us have fallen victim to that already.
Finally: Public Humiliation
Unfortunately, you can’t just fire your kids for misuse of the network, and they don’t seem to respond to well to outside stimulus like a shock collar. I find that they are much easier to affect emotionally, and that it is actually rather easy to trigger those responses.
If your cryptically veiled threats of “I seeeeeee yoooooou,” aren’t cutting the mustard, than it is time to take the most drastic step. Comment on their crap. That’s right, what do you think the average teenager would do to keep you from posting, “Never Forget, Mommy loves you!” on every single status update they post? How much do you think they would give to keep you from tagging them in that photo of the cute 3-year-old wearing nothing but cowboy boots while sitting on the pink dinosaur potty?
This might sound like cruel psychological warfare, and make no mistake, it is in many ways. I for one would rather mildly scar a teenager with a bit of embarrassment, though, then allow them scar themselves much deeper when they terrorize another kid into killing themselves.
Just remember, if your kid is a giant douche, it’s your job as a parent to break them of that before they end up on Jersey Shore as a Snooki impersonator. Your neighbors will shake their heads while saying, “Man, that Gary was such a good kid. I wonder what happened to him.”
Then you’ll be the one that’s embarrassed.