How much time does your daughter spend “talking”? With phone chat, emailing and instant-messaging (IMing), posting on her own website or “blog”(web-log journals), and text-messaging, a girl can spend ever-increasing hours from early morning to late night communicating in some form.
As the cost of cell phones and computers decreases, more girls are gaining access to modern talking tools. And industry trends make clear that girls will have even more electronic communicating options in the next few years.
Girls clearly love these new ways to talk, but experts advise caution. “Girls really want to stay connected with their friends, and these devices make it so much easier,” says Susan Morris Shaffer, coauthor with Linda Perlman Gordon of Why Girls Talk and What They’re Really Saying (McGraw-Hill, 2005). “But like every other aspect of their life, we need to help them use these tools in a healthy and moderate way.”
It’s not just a matter of mushrooming chat hours, but there’s also the potential for dangers with communicating online, where anyone can pretend to be someone else and most online communication is accessible to anyone with internet access. Headline-grabbing cases document rapes and murders of girls who’ve met up with internet strangers; just as disturbing is the frequency of unwanted sexual messages and online harassment.
Girls and women are three times more likely to be the target of internet sexual predators, and 5,000 incidences nationally were reported to police in 2004. While girls often insist they can resist internet sexual come-ons, many can’t. “Online predators can be extremely skillful and spend a lot of time cultivating a relationship,” notes Shaffer.
Online “cyberbullying” from both peers and strangers is also becoming more common. Cyberbullies can post derogatory remarks and pictures, organize online smear campaigns, or break into email accounts and send out mean messages under another’s name. Nearly half of fourth- through eighth-graders have been cyberbullied during the last school year, reports the internet safety group i-Safe (see resources). Cyberbullying has forced many middle schools and high schools to ban online communication on campus.
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