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 Internet. We are not aware of all of the details of their communications (which is primarily by texting), but there is definitely a strong emotional bond. Our daughter has been very secretive and texting constantly in any spare time. She is not very active about socializing with people in normal (versus virtual) life. As parents, we are very concerned and unsure of what to do. We will attempt to open up the arrangement: only email contact, with us monitoring the communications, but any access to the Internet is a potential line of communication we cannot monitor. 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.
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.
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 nonnegotiable.
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 she is only 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 to make sure she gets her homework done and participates in family life. Encourage her to get involved with at least one school activity and help her to foster friendships closer to home.