Ask Amy: Teen's virtual boyfriend worries parents

January 20, 2014 

Dear Amy: We have recently become aware that our 14-year-old daughter has been in very close contact with an 18-year-old boy who lives halfway across the country, thanks to the magic of the Internet.

This has been going on for several months, and we noticed that our daughter has been very secretive and texting constantly in any spare time. She is shy and not very active about socializing with people in normal (versus virtual) life.

Naturally, we as parents are very concerned about this and unsure of what to do.

For now, we will attempt to open up the arrangement so that we can monitor what is going on: only email contact, with us monitoring the communications.

Any advice for parents in this modern age of communication?

— Parents in the New World

Dear Parents: Welcome to cyberparenting. It's tricky. I shared your question with Donna Rice Hughes, whose website Internet Safety 101 (internetsafety101.org) offers helpful tutorials for parents and kids to navigate through this safely.

Realistically, you will not be able to eliminate contact, and you might not even be able to monitor it thoroughly, though you should check her texts (unannounced) to make sure they are not sexual and follow her presence on social media.

You should also open this up to the extent that you can to get to know this young man whom she cares so much about. At her age, you as parents should make every effort to meet and get to know all of her friends, real world or virtual. This is non-negotiable.

Communicate with him via Skype, phone or email, with your daughter present and with an open attitude. Verify that he is who he says he is. (And does he know that she is 14?) Also connect with his parents to let them know of this relationship. Basically, you want to demonstrate to both that you are present and involved.

Limit your daughter's phone time. Encourage her to get involved with at least one school activity.

Dear Amy: "Confused and Sad" wrote about falling in love with a man other than her husband. I hope she takes your advice to work hard to recommit to her marriage. To leave her husband and children is an act that cannot be undone, while an infatuation can be fleeting.

— Been there

Dear Been There: I agree. Thank you.

 

You can contact Amy Dickinson via email at askamy@tribune.com, follow her on Twitter @askingamy or "like" her on Facebook.

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