Death of middle school student puts focus on online dangers

Two Virginia Tech engineering students face charges in the death of a 13-year-old Blacksburg,Va., girl in a crime that seems to have begun with an online meeting.

David Eisenhauer, 18, has been charged with kidnapping and first-degree murder in the death of Nicole Madison Lovell, whose body was found Saturday in North Carolina, four days after she disappeared from her home. Another Virginia Tech student, Natalie Keepers, 19, faces charges of improper disposal of a body and accessory.

One college teachers gives students extra credit to turn in their phones. (AP Photo)

As more kids go online, how can parents stay on top of what they are doing and who they are meeting?  (AP Photo)

Nicole’s mother told reporters police believe her daughter met Eisenhauer online on “some off-the-wall site I never heard of.” On Wednesday, the middle school student apparently slipped out the window of her room, setting off a frantic search. Police have not yet released how the seventh grader died or the circumstances.

Nicole’s mother reported her daughter, who survived a liver transplant and lymphoma as a little child, was bullied at school by classmates who commented on her weight and even her surgery scars.

The Washington Post has a heartbreaking account of the crime, which describes Nicole’s online search for affirmation.

The Post reports:

Nicole wrote frequently on Facebook with romantic updates about her search for young love. “First Kiss” she wrote on May 3, 2014. “They say that Disney World is the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’. Obviously they’ve never been in your arms,” she posted on July 28, 2015.

On Jan. 1 at 3:35 a.m., Nicole posted a short message to a Facebook group called “Teen Dating and Flirting.” Captioned on a close-up selfie, the white flash of her cellphone camera illuminating her cheeks, she wrote: “Cute or nah.” The message received 304 replies. Many of the comments were spiteful, not unlike the kind of bullying that is pervasive on social media. “You’re very round,” one person wrote. “And no not cute,” another commented.

Years ago, a middle school pal of my daughter’s posted a photo of herself on Facebook with the question “Am I pretty?”  I warned her it was unrealistic to expect 13-year-old boys to respond to such vulnerability with delicacy and savoir-faire rather than with, “No, you’re ugly.” And that’s the sort of rude response she got, prompting discussions in my household about limiting Facebook questions to “How ’bout them Braves?”

But when teens ceded Facebook to their parents, they moved to sites and apps where they could post photos and comments without Aunt Susie seeing them and where often anonymous peers could offer instant and biting critiques. There’s always been a cottage industry of parenting books about the secret lives of teenagers. The migration of kids to social media has increased the secrets.

Not surprisingly, a new study of mothers and stress by Arizona State University researchers Suniya Luthar and Lucia Cicolla found the highest levels of stress and depression are now found in moms whose kids are 12 to 14.

In a release about the study, the authors explain the challenges moms face with adolescents:

“Several factors come together in a perfect storm, Luthar said. “One, the kids are dealing with puberty and all that this implies — hormones, acne and changing bodies. Two, they are drawn toward experimenting with alcohol, drugs or sex.”

“They are also coping with transition to a relatively impersonal school environment, with large buildings and different teachers for each class, as opposed to the relative safety of smaller elementary schools with the same teacher all year. Their academic performance is now evaluated in a much more public way than before, as are their extracurricular talents,” she added. “Finally, as they strive to separate from their parents, the peer group takes on enormous significance; early adolescents are very invested in ‘being popular,’ desperately wanting to fit in and be admired by their peers. That is a lot to deal with simultaneously.”

I am not sure schools can sort this out for us. As a culture, we’re just figuring our way on social media, and there will likely be dissertations about how we got it all wrong with kids. I am beginning to have more and more admiration for parents who refuse to give their young teens computers and smartphones and monitor all social media activity when they finally do.

What say the rest of you?

The Washington Post just posted a piece about the online world of young kids with some strong advice about monitoring. Take a look.

 

Reader Comments 0

10 comments
redweather
redweather

This makes for very sobering reading. It is tough enough to be a teenager without wondering if unknown people on the Internet will think you are cute or pretty.  I hope most parents have already figured out that they must be willing to supervise (control) their children's online activity.

Aunt T
Aunt T

Middle Schoolers need mobile technology. The benefits are clearly documented among education experts. Desktops, etc., don't replicate the same "just in time" learning potential.

However, that does mean parents, teachers, and administrators have to be on alert for the pitfalls of this technology. They must be proactive before a problem occurs.

One proactive thing that many parents can do is set themselves up as the administrator on ANY device kids use then adding prohibitions using settings .For instance, certain websites can be allowed by name (sites they need) and block all others. The kids become "users" with client profiles. Users can't download, enable, or disable apps By taking that power away from students, you safeguard devices as best you can. You also want to check history every other day in case something slips by. There are many programs and Apps that will do the job. Device companies, software manufacturers, and networks like Google have directions and pointers on their sites. 


Finally, check with the school or system. They may have additional material or someone who can help.

redweather
redweather

@Aunt T I'm not sure what you've been reading, but the jury is definitely still out regarding the educational value of mobile technology.  As with just about anything, what's most important is what we bring to the table.  Kentaro Toyama, formerly a Microsoft geek, has written persuasively about what technology can and cannot do.  In my view we are simply too quick to assume that technology is always an improvement.   

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

You would not believe how little supervision many kids seem to get with these electronic babysitters.  And parents seem blissfully unaware of what their kids are up to, or in the worst denial.  Many parents seem to be afraid to say no, or set limits.  At school we see it all the time--parents asking their child's "permission" about things that are parental responsibilities.


"Let the schools solve it!" is the mantra, unless it is your child.  Then it is, "The school has no business butting in to how I choose to raise my child!

redweather
redweather

@Wascatlady I often see parents in restaurants paying no attention to their children because they (the parents) are too busy with their phones. If it's happening in the restaurant, there is good reason to believe it is happening all the time. I guess they'll just have to learn firsthand what it means "to reap the whirlwind."

gapeach101
gapeach101

"found the highest levels of stress and depression are now reported by mothers  of children aged 12 to 14 years."

I need someone to diagram that sentence for me.  Who has the highest level or stress--the moms of 12-14 year olds, or the 12-14 year olds?

Thanks.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@gapeach101 

Funny! I too at first read this to mean that the mothers have the highest levels of stress.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@OriginalProf @gapeach101 The study is about the moms -- I was making point that today parenting adolescents has become more stressful than any other period. People used to contend parenting infants was the most stress. The study talks about how much trickier the middle school years have become. 

gapeach101
gapeach101

This is why I don't like middle schoolers having ipads.   Best to have a desktop in a public area.  Clearly, that won't solve it all, but it's a little step.  I never looked at my kids screens, but they were right there, so they knew I could.

Unfortunately,  smart phones has made it all the more difficult.