Question: Your tween has an entire language of symbols and abbreviations that they text and tweet and post. Is there any way for you to decipher it?
It is vital for parents to be aware of technology and how it affects their child. Ask them to teach you about texting lingo and their experiences. If you talk about these things during a family meal or a car trip they will feel like an expert and open up about what they know. The key is tone. If you only converse with your children in a parental, judgmental tone, they will not open up to you. — Dawn Lantero
Expert advice: "Your children's safety may depend upon you knowing their text and instant messaging lingo," says Mary Jo Rapini, author of "Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever" (find it here). "Kids want to fit in and feel good, and there are people who do not have your children's best interest at heart—people who are available at all times via the Internet and texting."
Rapini likes netsmartz.org, a website run by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has tips on recognizing cyber risks and how to approach the topic with your kids. She says to be on the lookout for bullying behavior.
"Bullying is no longer the bullying you grew up with," she says. "It is constant torture, and it happens at a time your child's sense of self is not fully developed. This is part of the reason it can have disastrous effects on children."
Netlingo.com is also a good source for decoding acronyms and texting jargon. The site lets you search individual terms and also sells downloadable guides, including "The List: A Parent's Guide to Internet Lingo" and "Top 50 Internet Acronyms Parents Need to Know."
"It takes your involvement to keep your child safe," Rapini says. "Blaming the schools, churches, or wherever else your child encountered a harmful person will not help if your child is hurt."
For more columns by Heidi Stevens, click here: Tribune Newspapers