Cyber-Bullying, Teens and Facebook

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The other night I went to a talk at my daughter’s high school by Dr. Meyran Boniel-Nissim. Boniel-Nissim is a Haifa University researcher on teen internet usage  and its psycho-social connotations.

In the old days, teens had to get out of the house to get into trouble. Now they can do it from the comfort of their bedrooms. Parents think that as long as they know where their children are, everything is fine. But the reality is different.

Teens know more about cyber-space than adults. Only a handful of the hundred or so parents in the room had a Facebook acount. So they don’t come to us with their questions and problems. The anonymity of the net allows teens, especially girls, to try out different personalities on the anonymous net. And while teens may be reticent at home, according to Boniel-Nissim they all pour out their hearts to strangers online.

Parents don’t have a clue. In an Israeli study of 500 teens and their parents, each pair was asked about the teens’ internet behavior. 70% of teens described themselves as consumers of porn. Only a small percentage of the parents thought their children viewed porn.

Facebook is a popular site for teens. They want to appear popular, especially when they first join. So they are quick to accept friends, but they allow access to personal information. Impersonating a real-life friend by stealing a profile picture is easy too.

Some parents think they are safe because they have “friended” their children to keep an eye on their activities. But some teens have two accounts, one for show and one for their real activities.

We’ve all heard the stories of cyber-bullying and it has even led to suicide. A teen can wake up one morning to find epithets and unflattering pictures on her wall, and a friend count back at zero.

Teachers in the audience shared disturbing stories. In one case, students used a cellphone to take embarrassing pictures during gym class. Then they uploaded them to Facebook. Others made up a quiz, “Which [insert name of school] Teacher are You,” with multiple-choice questions based on  clothing and other personal quirks.

Boniel-Nissim considers cyber-violence to be equivalent to real-life abuse, and recommends reporting it to the police. Apparently it’s illegal to upload pictures without permission from the subject, and someone who refuses to take them down can be prosecuted. But that is a privacy issue, not cyber-violence. Hacking into computers, which is apparently common and easy, is also an issue of privacy and perhaps theft. It is certainly an attack and should be illegal, but I still can’t see it as the same as physical abuse.

Bullying, ostracism, embarrassing your classmates and making fun of your teachers have been with us long before the internet. It’s true that the public nature and speed of the internet take these cruel behaviors to a different level. But I am not sure what cyber-violence is, and how a judicial system could rule on it. You can’t hit someone via the internet. You can threaten someone with violence, but you can do that in the newspaper or by anonymous letter. So the same rules should apply.

I’ve asked Meyran, my newest Facebook friend, to respond with more examples. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your opinion:

  • How is bullying different on the internet than in real life? At what point, if any, should it become a crime?
  • Is there such a thing as cyber-violence?
  • How do you help your teens to deal with all of this, if they are on the net?

Meyran is skeptical about internet filters because they can’t block one-on-one interaction, which is the main source of the difficulties.

Whether our kids are on the internet or not, there is only so much we can protect them. With teens there’s no substitute for communication, awareness, education, and setting limits.


  1. I went to a lecture at our junior school. They also said not to rely on filters – after all, you may have one at home, but your child’s friends may not. My eldest is only 13, but is on the computer a lot. However, we only have one computer & it’s in the lounge, so most of the time she’s not alone. I also check the history occasionally. We occasionally talk about it & some teenage dramas include this issue as well.
    I agree with you, Hannah, education, communication, awareness & limits are the best ways to deal with these issues

  2. Long ago we tried some filter, and it was so frustrating for both of us (my son learns very quickly – you can’t use Google with those filters).

    Communicating with teenagers and being of aware of their moods, strange behavior, types of friends are all key. Teenagers usually don’t want to tell you what is going on, but if you don’t intrude too much, they will often drop hints.

    From the outside, I can tell which teens are more troubled – too often, they have parents that have difficulty listening.

  3. avos, perek 6, last mishna, kol ma she barah a KBH be olamo, lechvdo hu bara. Everything has a use for kedusha, otherwise it would not exist. Computers are to be used, no filters will help, only a good education.

  4. We have spent lots of time discussing computer usage privacy with our kids (7.5 & 10.5 yrs old) and their school has done so as well.

    My older son complains we don’t allow him access to certain things his friends have but we have talked about why yes and why no.

    We finally gave in to facebook a couple of weeks ago as much of his class now have accounts to chat and to play petville and farmville. That said, we also sat down with him and went through all and tightened every single privacy setting so that his account is very limited indeed – he has to request friends as it doesn’t even appear with a setting to let someone ask him to be their friend, etc. He’s not using his wall yet so we don’t have that worry as of now. (And yes, my husband is friended on his account) We also have his password though we do not intend to use it without good reason – same with his email account.

    We’ve decided to take the path of allowing him access to functions with explanation of limitations together with him rather than blocking everything off so that we have less of a chance of him just doing it on his own – he’s far too savvy and smart for us to not assume he will figure out how to bypass us so we’re trying instead to go the route of open communication. When I worked with him on his facebook security, i showed him how various things could allow someone to see and learn about him, etc in an effort to get co-operation and buy in. Maybe it is the wrong approach, only time will tell but I feel that it has opened a door for discussing these matters and he has been coming to us whenever he wants to download and with various questions so thusfar its worked.

    One thing we do have is the computer in the middle of the living room/dining room of our flat. No computer in a private room and we can see everything easily, etc. This was one statement we’ve heard over and over at programs in his school about internet usage.

    We have the advantage of being fairly computer savvy parents and our children are fully aware of that.

    Do i believe we’lll avoid all problems – no way. but i’m just hoping to be able to keep things at a lower simmer as the teen years approach. Its not like my kids won’t be able to simply use the computer at their friends homes or other places to access things I don’t want them seeing if I just banned it entirely – i’m just hoping to make it less of a forbidden fruit.


    • Shoshana, good luck with your approach. Although the speakers the other night (there were too) were both skeptical of relying on the computer being in the living room.

  5. My daughter’s school had a mandatory lecture for parents about the dangers of technology. The speaker says when he gives similar talks to teens, he asks how many have FB accounts and only 1 or 2 shyly raise their hands. When he asks how many of them know people with FB accounts, suddenly almost all of them raise their hands!

    My daughter had already heard the same speaker in camp, and when I recounted this part of his talk, she laughed and said that’s exactly what happened. Almost no one raised a hand, except for my daughter and her friend sitting near the back wildly raising their hands!

    My daughter doesn’t care what others think, which is a trait she inherited from me, I guess, and works in her favor because it definitely reduces the impact of peer pressure.

    We don’t filter, but like several of your commenters, both of our computers are in public areas of our house.

  6. I’m sure the computer in the public room is not a cure all but at least it gives me a better idea of what my kids are doing since we are around… and they know we are seeing/hearing it as well.

    I think like all things in life, there are no guarantees – if they want, teens can easily access plenty of inappropriate material without too much trouble (unless we are pretty much lockign them up and escorting them full time when they aren’t in school…. and even then i’d not place bets on anything).

    And just today my 10.5yr told me that in school, his class was in the computer room working on something for science, one of the kids mentioned that someone he didn’t know asked to friend him on facebook and said he was a boy of the same age with a picture – and the ocmputer teacher supervising immediately stopped the class from working on science to discuss the fact that anyone can claim to be someone they aren’t on the internet, that you cannot tell that this person isn’t an adult just trying to impersonate a child, and a reminder that just like you’d never talk to a stranger in a public place or go walking off with them, so too shouldn’t you be talking with strangers on the internet or making friends without further information.


  7. My daughters show me their facebook pictures. One of my daughters friend post picture that range from somewhat inappropriate to “OH MY G-D!!!” I wonder if I should let their parents know even though I am in touch with them.

    Technology scares me, but I think the way to handle it is like with any other issue: alot of talking with your kids. My kids are all my friends on FB and I don’t think they have second accounts because I see them all time doing quizes like “what does your hairstyle say about you” and putting up statuses like “Had the best sleepover at Ilana’s!” Still I can’t be 100% sure that it’s all innocent. As with everything else, I hope and pray that the guidance Isaac and I give them makes them use good judgment and that they speak to us if something is going on that is not right.

    I don’t believe, at least for my children, that the answer is blocking access to FB. I think when you tell kids “no” they find ways to do things anyway without those open lines of communication.

    Alot of parenting is doing the best you can and then hoping for the best.

  8. We have internet rimon on our computers, which in my opinion does give a minimum protection about accidently getting to various sites. We do not find it limits our surfing (both of us work from home on the computer) However, it is not connected to Facebook.
    Our computer is also in a main area.
    I let my 15 yr old open Facebook in the summer holidays cos all his friends have, and they were making arrangements about when to meet using it.
    My sisters and parents also have Facebook.
    However, I really do not want to have an account myself as I think it will take up too much of my time (which I do not have), and I do not like that sort of exposure.
    The shabbat leaflets are talking about Facebook, olam katan had a full spread article explaining about it last week, and Maynei yeshua started a serial this week.

    I have discussed Facebook with my son, general things about not giving out info etc., but since I do not know how to use it, could not really give him good advice about the privacy options. MIL, can you point us to some good sources, or give tips about what privacy options teens should select when using Facebook?

    Interestingly enough my 2 older kids are not interested in it at all.

    On the other hand, connected with your shiduch posts, I was told yesterday that when a boy is offered a shiduch, they immediately check the girl out on Facebook!!

  9. Shoshana, good story!
    Baila,I agree,you can block Facebook but you can’t watch them all the time. At some point they are going to be on their own.
    Keren, yes, I saw those articles. Yona Goodman, who wrote one, also spoke at the evening but since the first speaker covered FB he talked about other things. I think the shidduch/FB was also mentioned in one of the articles.

    Here are some links:

  10. We have two computers for 4 children with two software programs. One is for filtering (NetNanny), which is very good, and the other one is ComputerTime, which limits the time spent at the computer (hours per day/month, when to force a break etc.). This solved the typical problems of “He’s been there more than an hour and I haven’t had a turn”.

  11. Regular Anonymous says

    It took about 5 minutes for my then 14 year old son to figure out how to bypass the k-9 filter. All he needed to do was open up the Firefox browser instead of IE. We tried Rimon a while ago and found it impossible to work with, perhaps it’s better now.

    I have an account on FB with a fake name. I recently checked out some of the neighborhood teens. Amazing how these 15 year olds have 150-200 friends. Also was very surprised to see some of the frummiest girls here with tons of boys on their lists, something I know at least some of their mothers would not approve of.

    Never a dull moment in the child raising areana.

    • RA: So did you join my fan page?
      Esther: Thanks for visiting and sharing how you handle teens and the internet. I’m so sorry your daughter had to experience that.

  12. I am my children’s filter.
    But then I myself spend several hours a day on the internet in addition to working on the computer so I have quite a good idea of which sites they are visiting.
    Our internet computer is in the sitting room and they are used to me peeking over their shoulder.
    I have also set a minimum age limit of 13 for Facebook and other social networks. They are used to mixing with many different social groups including both friends and strangers and I remind them that the same rules apply on the computer – no personal information, no meetings without parental consent etc

    Bullying and peer pressure is just a fact of both real and virtual life.
    My daughter’s school class suffered more than 2 years of ‘social problems’ and my daughter was ostracized for most of that time for standing by her unpopular friends. I gave her moral support but there was nothing much else to be done until she moved school.

  13. Yair Amichai says

    May I get the source of data?



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