Early last spring Megan Gunder, of Wantagh, New York, found out exactly what technology's "cutting edge" means. While checking messages on her cell phone, she opened a text from her boyfriend that read, "Please don't call me anymore." Breaking up is always hard to do, but getting the boot from cyberspace made her humiliation even more excruciating. Who would be so thoughtlessly cruel?
A teen with a machine, that's who. Roughly half of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 now own cell phones and 9 out of 10 use the Internet -- and the more wired they are, the ruder they get. Texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging virtually 24-7, teens are immersed in their own universe, where the normal rules of etiquette don't apply. "They feel as if they're wearing an invisible cape," says Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy and security lawyer and executive director of wiredsafety.org. "You can tell a kid who's standing next to you to watch her language or stop being mean. But the distance technology provides means that parents aren't on hand to witness, much less curb, bad behavior." What's more, in cyberspace kids never see their friends, or enemies, which emboldens them to get crude and crass in ways they wouldn't dream of doing to someone's face. It would be comforting to think these are the teens who are one step shy of juvenile hall, but no; they're the same kids who say "please" and "thank you" and hold the door open.
Rudeness, however, isn't inevitable. Remember that manners are not intuitive for teens. "Teaching teens how to behave in cyberspace is really no different from teaching them how to behave in society," says Aftab. "It's all about respect for yourself and others." Read on to find out how kids are acting up -- and how to get yours to act nice.