Girls Fighting Back Online

24/04/2015 17:02 | Updated 24 June 2015

Teenager online comebacks

When I discovered I was expecting a daughter, her father at the time joked: "I'll have to beat boys off with a big stick when she's a teenager." That was in 2000, long before social media grew to be the powerful influence in our kids' lives it is today. Little could I imagine, my daughter, like millions of others, would be using social media every single day and it would become the norm for complete strangers to approach her online. Now parents worry about protecting and guiding our kids through two worlds: both real and virtual.

On the whole I'm a massive fan of social media and think the pros far outweigh the cons, but the online world poses risks which are very real. At the tender age of 13, my child and many of her peers have already had online requests for nude pictures, mainly from other teenage boys trying their luck but strangers sometimes approach too.

From all over the world, strangers have also asked for their number or start to follow them on Twitter or Instagram, even making inappropriate comments.

As a parent it's horrifying to think at such a young age kids are being harassed by strangers and I feared my daughter was bound to feel pressure to interact. After all even grown women struggle with harassment. For example just walking down a street being catcalled can bring up emotions from shame to blind panic and anger.

So how will today's teens deal with sexism and potential abuse? Well the answer in my daughter's case is, better than I did or possibly even could.

While I ran away from boys who taunted me in the street at her age, my daughter and her friends are less afraid to stand up for themselves. When my 13-year-old told me a boy had been harassing her for a nude picture of herself, I felt sick to my stomach.

"He kept asking me for a picture of myself in my bra," she said.

I almost didn't dare ask how she responded, fearing the worst. But my worry changed almost immediately to pride when she explained what she did next. She took a small polaroid of herself, placed it in the cup of an old bra and then took a snap on her iphone of it. Then my teen sent him a photo of that.

"What did he say?" I asked.

"He replied with a question mark," my daughter giggled. "So I said: 'What's the matter? You asked for a photo of me in my bra, so there, now you have one!'"

Then she blocked him.

I thought this was a brilliant response and she explained she'd learned it from another girl's Instagram feed. Her reaction isn't an unusual one either I discovered after speaking to some of her friends. One of my daughter's friends faced being hassled for her phone number on Instagram so she gave him her much older Uncle's number and tipped him off to expect an unwanted call. Consequently the boy got a firm talking to and received such a shock when he heard the Uncle's voice hopefully he'll think twice before annoying girls again.

Another 14-year-old girl told me when she was called a 'Bitch' by a boy for refusing to follow him back on Twitter, she replied: 'Woof! Woof!' before blocking him.

I asked the group if they thought ignoring the online approaches was best, but many of them said sometimes but not always. "If we don't say something they'll do it to someone else," one replied. "And sometimes you can teach them a lesson fast."

They all agreed they could spot the signs of 'weirdos'. They looked out for Twitter followers with hardly any followers themselves, or someone who pops up on their Whatsapp out of nowhere who they don't have any friends in common with. Knowing the signs means they can warn each other or ask for advice. I've suggested they always tell their parents just in case. Obviously not all girls are mature enough to handle approaches from boys and strangers quite like this, but many are willing and able to stand up for themselves without hesitation.

Following the success of the hashtag #everydaysexism, (a ground-breaking project looking at how women cope with 21st century sexism) women were asked for their best comebacks to sexist comments and they were inundated with funny and quirky responses. Hopefully by sharing ways to not feel like a victim and support each other girls of the future will continued to feel empowered, not cowered by online abuse.

While not all teenagers are web savvy, and all of them still need a strong parental guidance when it comes to comebacks, some girls really are doing it for themselves.


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