Several months ago, my friend, Nancy, and I attended a bullying and cyberbullying panel discussion featuring some of the top names in the field...but the most impressive by far, was an expert sitting in the audience. The most riveting remarks were by a young well-spoken girl by the name of Ally. She began to speak honestly and openly about her own experience:
Allyson is a 21-year-old from Franklin, NJ who was cyberbullied, bullied, and harassed in high school after an ex-boyfriend forwarded a topless picture of her to her entire school. She has since done multiple interviews, goes to schools and talks to students about the dangers of sexting, and educates others on digital abuse awareness. She also appeared in the MTV News special "Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public." She is currently attending school for Vascular Sonography and is writing a book about sexting and the severe repercussions she had to overcome after high school.
I reached out to Ally to ask her to share her three top tips for parents and teens:
1) Do not ever put anything in writing or pictures that you wouldn't want your parents, teachers, or family to see. Once something is sent it can never be taken back. It is virtually out there forever, and it CAN haunt you for the rest of your life.Ally taught me so much in just a few minutes during that symposium. She was immediately likable and made me realize that this momentary lapse in judgment can happen to anyone and the fallout is cruel and brutal. (I always say that "even nice kids" can run into trouble on the internet but no one deserves to be tortured.)
2) If you are a parent or guardian and you suspect something is up with your teen, TALK TO THEM. Keep your eyes open to warning signs of bullying. i.e drop in grades, isolation, sudden personality changes.
3) If you are a teen who is being bullied online or off, GET HELP. Be it through your parents, a trusted friend, or a teacher, find someone you trust who is reliable enough to help you. You can not deal with it on your own.
October's National Geographic cover story, The New Science of the Teenage Brain, as well as CNN's story, Why Teens Are Wired For Risk explain why teens do things that seem risky and thoughtless. They mention 2 things: 1.) they don't think about the risk, they think about the reward (such as having a boy really like you) and 2.) they are preparing to leave the nest and become independent (from what I understand, kind of testing things out.)
Knowng this doesn't make it any easier to parent teens, but it may make it easier to understand why even "good" kids push the envelope (and actually most kids are good). We cannot abandon them.
Thanks, Ally, for being brave and sharing your story. It's noble that you're willing to help others.
And, thanks to my dentist, Dr. Tricorache. Have you noticed yet that your October issue of National Geographic is missing? (Some brains actually never fully mature.)