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Published: Sunday, December 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Online, cruelty can inflict harm far past the teen years

Have you ever had a nightmare where you're back in high school and (fill in the blank)?

For me, the nightmare is I'm lost on my way to math class and can't remember any trigonometry. I can still recite "My tan sinister cousin has a sexual crisis," but I don't understand what that mnemonic device was supposed to mean. I think it's something about secants and cosines.

Math tangents aside, the real reason high school is scary these days is the Internet.

Picture your worst day as a 16-year-old. Now picture it on YouTube forever.

I graduated in the Dark Ages before cellphones. But some experiences are universal. September starts out hopeful with your new clothes and everything. All your friends are eating lunch together and you think things are great. By the time December rolls around, you know who your real friends are.

Girl drama is the worst. Counseling your daughter through it is one of the most important jobs moms do.

Rumors, tweets, wall postings; it doesn't matter. Some people will say anything to get attention. Or maybe some people feed on negativity. (I don't know.)

What I do know is that there is always a better method to share a real concern than slinging mud at somebody's reputation.

But you could toughen up your insides by eating nails for breakfast and it still wouldn't help. When somebody says something mean about you, it hurts. When they don't say it to your face, it hurts even harder.

I know what people say. "Don't listen to them. Just ignore them. Grow a thicker skin."

Whatever. That's from a generation that didn't have Twitter.

Someday, all our daughters will go into the workplace and potential employers will Google their names. It's not OK that the mad postings of queen bees, locker-room perverts or vindictive boyfriends follow them around the rest of their lives. These days, mean-girl drama can actually wound careers.

Just ask Taylor Swift. She came back swinging from a scathing public slam with her song "Mean." It could be the anthem for teenage girls everywhere. Or what about Jewel's song "I'm Sensitive"? Jewel was like the Taylor Swift of my day, only without all the hot boyfriends.

When my daughter becomes a teenager someday, I'm keeping both of those songs on our permanent playlist.

In the meantime, the mere thought of my daughter becoming a teenager strikes fear into my very core. I imagine me and my dumb phone trying to keep up with a media-savvy teen, and I'm afraid. I'm very afraid. I don't even understand hashtags!

So be courageous, moms, because we're parenting in a brave new world. Teaching girls math is easy. Teaching them to be nice to each other is really hard.

Jennifer Bardsley blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

Story tags » ParentingYouth

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