The trouble starts when Emmett meets “Mandy” online in a photography chatroom. Since the two share common interests, it’s easy for Emmett to fall for the pretty face presented to him. Despite reservations by Bay, one of his closest friends, Emmett continues to text “Mandy” frequently and eventually they set up a meeting.
Red Flag #1 – Online sexual predators are a serious threat to teens. It might seem exotic to have a girlfriend or boyfriend from afar, but there’s no way of knowing if the person on screen is the person in reality.
What Can You Do? – Talk with your kids about how easy it is for someone to hide their identity online. Be sure they know not to give out personal information to strangers – no matter how appealing.
The meeting turns out to be a set-up by a former friend, Matthew, who is angry with Emmett for getting him in trouble at school a few months prior. Matthew beats up Emmett and leaves him heartbroken in the park where he went to meet “Mandy.”
Red Flag #2 – There are clear indicators that “Mandy” is not who she seems, but Emmett doesn’t want to hear this information, which is discovered by Bay and can be passed off as jealousy, since the two used to date.
What Can You Do? – Instruct your kids to NEVER meet with someone they don’t know alone. Report any incidents of fraud or violence immediately. If you know a friend is going to meet with a stranger, tell a trusted adult.
Things escalate the next day at school when Matthew refuses Emmett’s offer of a truce, and instead posts flyers of his and “Mandy’s” text messages all over the school. Emmett’s mother, Melody, played brilliantly by the incomparable Marlee Matlin, has sensed something was wrong, but could not get Emmett to talk until after she saw the flyers around the school, where she is an administrator. Finally Emmett fills her in.
Red Flag #3 – If your child suddenly does not want to go to school, even though they are perfectly healthy, something is wrong.
What Can You Do? Find out what. It might take some prodding, but it’s worth annoying your kid if it gets you answers in the end. They need your help, even if they don’t realize it. If your teen is being cyberbullied by classmates, be sure to sit down with school authorities to discuss solutions.
This is exactly what Melody arranges; however, just before the meeting is to begin, Matthew secretly shows Emmett a scandalous picture on his phone – one that Emmett thought “Mandy” had deleted – and when they all sit together with Principal Rose, Emmett changes his story and claims it was all a joke.
Red Flag #4 – If your child suddenly changes their story or decides not to “tell,” it’s a good bet that someone is threatening them to keep quiet.
What Can You Do? – Involve the authorities if need be, but get to the bottom of things. Cyberbullying is a crime, and should not be tolerated.
Whatever you do, don’t take matters into your own hands as Melody does, grabbing a cocky Matthew by the collar and slamming him up against a locker. As much as the sight of Marlee Matlin in full mama-bear mode is both frightening and Emmy-worthy, this is absolutely the wrong move.
Of note is that in addition to the cyberbullying depicted in this story there are two instances of social sabotage that factored in. The first victim is Emmett, whose private conversations are co-opted by Matthew through his deception, and made public against Emmett’s will. The second is the real Mandy, whose image was used without her knowledge or permission, to perpetrate the fraud.
To watch the episode, click here. A new episode airs tonight at 8:00 pm Eastern on ABC Family.
What Parents Need to Remember
When it comes to children and teens on the Internet, there is no such thing as too cautious. Mistakes made in youthful innocence or ignorance can have far-reaching consequences, living in permanence on the Web. It’s up to parents to educate themselves on social media, smart phones and other technology, and to create boundaries for their children and teens when it comes to using the Internet – and to enforce those boundaries.
The story above is just one example of cyberbullying; there are many others, and lots of other ways to help avoid it or deal with it if it happens, which we’ll be covering in future posts.
Has your child ever been cyberbullied? How did you handle it?