CBSN

"Textual Harassment": Danger Could Be Lurking

Half the people between the ages of 14 and 24 responding to an Associated Ptess/MTV survey says they've experienced some sort of digitally abusive behavior, includign what experts have come to call "textual harassment" -- harassment via text messages.

Textual harassment consists of repetitive texting, sometimes hundreds of messages in a day. In many cases, such behavior is considered bullying. In extreme cases, it has even led to violence and death.

to discuss this recent phenomenon and tips on how to prevent it from happening to your child.

Digital messaging has become one of the primary ways of communication among teens and young adults, but many people don't realize the danger that this possesses, technology expert Katie Linendoll pointed out to co-anchor Erica Hill on "The Early Show" Tuesday.

"I think a lot of people hear textual harassment and they easily dismiss it, because it does sound incredibly silly," Linendoll said. "But the problem here is it's becoming really scary, especially in the last few years. And in the most extreme of cases, we're seeing teens committing suicide, deaths that could have been stopped in advance had we seen the warning signs."

One of the major hurdles is detecting those early warning signs. That's because use of home phones has tailed off significantly, and each person is in control of his or her cell phone.

So, with most teens having private phones, how can parents know when texting gets to the point of harassment?

"You're talking about kids having cell phones, 75 percent of teenagers have cell phones and 33 percent of them are sending over 100 text messages a day. So to see that correlation, it's not unheard of to be having textual harassment," said Linendoll. "But when it becomes controlling and scary, you have to heed the warning signs. (For instance), if a 14-year-old is dealing with a 25-year-old texting them, and if they're getting sexting requests. Then we have an issue."

Textual harassment also happens at different times. Because most of us have our phones within an arm's reach at all times, it is hard to know whether your child is receiving text messages at three in the morning.

Linendoll says it's very important for parents to stay technology-savvy. Though it may seem easy to turn a blind eye to things such as texting, Facebook, and Twitter, it's important for a parent to know exactly what's going on.

"When you hear about things on Facebook , Mypace and Twitter, you have to go on and really understand what they're dealing with. And that includes their phone, too. You have every right to look at that phone and look at the messages. Phones are a privilege, not a right," said Linendoll.

There are services that make it easier for parents to monitor their child's phone usage. One Linendoll mentioned is My Mobile Watchdog.com. You can add up to five lines for $10 a month. It mlnitors every single incoming and outgoing text message.

"A lot of people say big brother?" said Linendoll. "No, we say big mother. You have a responsibility as a parent."

There are also other ways of monitoring phone use, through your service provider. Many offer plans that include no text messaging at all. As the parent, you can set up parameters with your cell phone company or download different apps that allow you to control when and where your child receives text messages.

But most importantly, parents should have a conversation with their children about what is and isn't appropriate when it comes to texting.

"The sexting that became a craze," said Linendoll. "Almost one in five have sent a sexual picture of themselves. So to feel that pressure, don't send it. It's not A to B, it's A to the whole alphabet in one click."

If textual harassment becomes a problem, report it to the authorities before it gets out of hand.

"A lot of parents get nervous when we're talking about technology," said Linendoll. "You have to stay ahead of the trends. If you're going to be the bad guy and set up one of these mobile services that is watching those texts, it's too bad. And I know every teen will hate me saying that, but that is your responsibility."