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The Jessi Slaughter videos: Cyber bullying or parents in denial?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  July 23, 2010 06:19 AM

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Last Friday, 11-year-old Jessica Leonhardt of Florida -- who goes by "Jessi Slaughter" and "Kerligirl13" online -- was taken into protective custody for a few days after being harassed when her profanity-laced YouTube video "to the haters" went viral.

"You know what? I don't give a f---. I'm happy with my life," she says in one of the video's tamer moments. "And if you can't realize that and stop hating, I'll pop a Glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy."

It goes on for four more minutes, during which she shows off her new lip piercing ("My mom made me take it out, 'cause I'm getting new ones"), talks about how perfect she is ("Nobody else can be this pretty with no makeup on!"), boasts about her boyfriends ("I have three. Jealousy, much?"), and urges "haters" to perform certain sexual acts and "gets AIDS and die."

The video went viral. Someone posted her real name, address, and phone number online. And then the pranks -- and, according to her parents, threats -- started pouring in.

Jessi's mom, Dianne Leonhardt told Mom Logic this week that her daughter had been bullied in school, and kids who were jealous of her friendship with a boy who is in a band made her a target. But while it's tempting to chalk the whole situation up to cyber bullying gone wild, I think there's a more to it than that: Regardless of what's going on at school, an 11-year-old with a webcam, unrestricted internet access, and parents who aren't paying attention is an accident waiting to happen.

"It's been very difficult because I don't understand what's going on," her mom told Mom Logic. "I don't even know what these videos show and I don't want to view them. I am upset enough."

"I think it's parental negligence. You can't call it anything else," says Stanley Holditch, internet marketing manager for InternetSafety.com. "If you're saying, 'I don't know how this stuff works, there's too much of this to take control,' you're just throwing up your hands as a parent and not doing what you should be doing."

Eleven-year-olds shouldn't be active on social networking sites like YouTube to begin with, Holditch says. "I think the results speak for themselves," he told me. "It's not so much age dependent as it is dependent on the maturity of the child, but at 11-years-old, children are not really equipped to handle the consequences of putting themselves out there in such a public way."

Jessi now insists she never made the video to begin with, and her mother says she's giving her daughter "the benefit of the doubt."

"The officers had said there were videos, but Jess denied making them," she told Mom Logic. "Then my mother-in-law called and said there were videos. But I haven't watched them. I can't be in the room 24/7. I don't know if she made these videos or not, but she says she didn't... I haven't watched the videos, and I don't want my daughter back online. I don't want to make her all upset again."

(Another video posted -- in which Jessi is weeping, her father is on camera furiously shouting at "the haters," and her mother's voice can be heard in the background -- was shot in a bedroom identical to the one in the earlier video. It's also gone viral, prompting even more harrassment. Gawker has both videos, but be warned -- they're not really safe for work.)

Instead of adding fuel to the fire after the fact -- the father's video is being ridiculed far and wide -- parents need to talk to their kids about internet use early on. "This is the first time in human history when anyone, literally anyone, can access an audience of millions," Holditch points out. "This isnít just new to kids, itís new to human society, period."

Parents shouldn't be afraid to restrict their children's access to the internet, either. "Be frank with them, be real with them," Holditch says. "Thereís absolutely no reason parents should feel afraid or bad about using technological tools that are available and made for this exact purpose -- to augment the parenting rules that they themselves have set up."

"This child didnít do anything horribly wrong," he adds. "This child acted like an 11-year-old girl."

ďYou teach your kids pool safety, but you still put a fence up around the pool,Ē Holditch points out. "It's really a shame that parents don't feel that they can provide the guidance that their children deserve, which is saying 'You're not ready for this yet'."

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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10 comments so far...
  1. "This child acted like an 11-year-old girl."
    Um...no. Most 11-year old girls I know and have known, do not threaten to stick a Glock in someone's mouth and make a brain slushy. They also don't have their lips pierced (this is usually the age where they're fighting to get their ears pierced!) and they don't have boyfriends in the sense described here.

    So, her parents appear to be covering for her - not living in denial over what's happened, but in denial over the fact that they know, and were party to it.

    It's sad. I had my first ever parent/teacher conference this week, and I was informed by my 2-year old's teachers that I should let them know ASAP if our daughter's tantrums at home (she has never had one at Play Skool, of course...) begin to include name calling. Apparently, there are two children in the classroom who, when they melt down, call the teachers stupid, ugly, b***hes.

    Thankfully, while we see nuclear apocolypse class meltdowns at home, the one thing they have not yet involved is this sort of name calling.

    The teachers are trying to curb the behavior, but the parents aren't interested in discussing it, nor do they seem particularly disturbed by the fact that their TWO YEAR OLD's are saying these things. My sense is that they're not disturbed because they're the ones who threw it out there for the kids to learn, but hey. What do I know?

    And from that parental attitude, the Jessi Slaughters of the world are born.

    Posted by Phe July 23, 10 07:54 AM
  1. Phe, that's an excellent point, and I agree about your take on her parents. I think what he meant about Jessi acting like an 11-year-old girl was that her lashing out at the bullies, looking for attention, her bravado, her arrogance, her middle-school-esque angst and paranoia -- all of those things are fairly typical in an early adolescent. She was able to take it to an extreme in two ways, though: The level of profanity/obscenity in the video, and the fact that she made a video and posted it for the world to see. Back when we were kids, we might gripe on the phone to a friend, or at recess, or in the lunchroom, but the fallout was much more easily contained. -- LMA

    Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse Author Profile Page July 23, 10 09:52 AM
  1. I think my first thought is one shared by the majority of parents hearing about this....WHERE were her parents when this girl was (fill in the blank from a long list). They have abdicated responsibility and then are shocked at the results. Have they never figured out cause and effect in life??
    And yes, I also agree with Phe, the child typically learns the words that are spoken at home. Whatever those words are.

    I was stunned speachless when my (then) 4 year old daughter ran up to me one day, eyes and mouth wide, and then whispered "Daddy said the "f" word!!!" I was stunned because neither my husband nor I curse. As I stood there speachless my daughter continued in a shocked and hushed voice..."Daddy said.....FART!!!"
    Thank you, God, for children that think "fart" is the "f" word.

    Posted by Jo G July 23, 10 06:07 PM
  1. I just saw the video where she's crying and thought thats sad... then i saw her video and was disgusted.. I'm 26 and i'll admit i swear.. but nothing like this girl. If this is what children at like now in days i'm glad i don't have them.. Just sickening.

    Posted by Hammy July 23, 10 11:47 PM
  1. That made me laugh, Jo. Its sad to think lots of four year old have learned to throw "f" bombs or the other variety.
    Anyways, if they knew, or not, this girls parents have failed her for all the reasons Phe listed. I really think that authorities should investigate wether, or not, theses parents have a right to this child.

    Posted by lala July 24, 10 07:57 AM
  1. I'm not sure if any of you have tweens or teens yet. It really is a whole different ball game.

    My now 16 year old had a YouTube account when he started 8th grade and had to clear everything he posted or commented on with us. WE had the log in password and therefore the control. It was annoying for us, seemed degrading to him, but I am so glad we did it.

    He used a mild profanity when reviewing a movie and we made him reshoot. Not that it wasn't broadcast on network TV any night of the week. Our guidelines are pretty strict and if he wouldn't say it in front of his Grandmother, he can't broadcast it, or use it in a review.

    He'll be a Junior in the fall and the excitement of Youtube has long waned. He's got a Facebook account that I have full access to. I can access all his emails and his phone if I choose to do so, but haven't done that for a while.

    I will have these rules in place as long as he's under 18, living in my home, or I am paying the bills.

    "I'm your parent, not your friend." My mom 1990, when she took my car keys away because I had only gotten 2 hours of sleep. I was 20 at the time and she was right.

    Posted by Maye July 24, 10 08:24 AM
  1. As a retired teacher 0f nearly 40 years, the last 10 exclusively with 11/12 year olds, I was horrified when I saw how the father , let alone Jessi, acted. That video of her father ranting to other kids is completely out of line. Then I heard all 3 interviewed on a national morning news show and it was hard to decide who the adults in the trio are????? This may be a "different" time than when we grew up, without all the technology, but common sense and parental guidance never goes out of style and can be applied to every generation and its lifestyle, as some commenters have shown. Any little girl who counters her "haters" with language like "put a Glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy" is in complicity with any bullying being committed. Most 11 year olds I taught wouldn't even know what a "Glock" is. But the worst part is Jessi is behaving like a mini-adult and losing any joy and freedom to enjoy life that childhood allows. When I would discuss school and its social problems with my students I always pointed out to the ones who were getting themselves into "adult" style squabbling all the time, that childhood is a time they can never get back once it's gone. It's a time for individual creativity and exploration of the good things that the world offers and the freedom to enjoy a variety of fun and learning opportunities. Spending their time arguing over whose boyfriend is whose, clothing and worse is a terrible way to waste that childhood. They need responsible adults to help guide them away from the wasteful "crap". Unfortunately, Jessi has 2 parents who haven't got a clue what good things life offers themselves. Let's hope she gets some serious guidance soon.

    Posted by mary spear July 24, 10 11:14 AM
  1. It could have been worse! I have to say this: I am almost glad that this kind of immature preteen behavior is all we saw on this videos. This child has a computer and a webcam in her bedroom focused on her bed, and parents who clearly don't know what all this technology is, how it can be used and how it should be restricted in someone so young! Talk about a pervert's dream waiting to happen!

    Posted by merilisa July 25, 10 04:35 AM
  1. These parents are straight trash, and their daughter has followed in their footsteps, unfortunately. Her mother's ignorant, dismissive, "not my kid" attitude is disgusting. That little girls language was disgusting. Why does an 11 year old know what beastiality is?! Why does she know about 1/2 the things she was saying? Where are her parents!? I know she's 11...but i'm sorry- she deserved a lot of the harassment that she got. She knows full well what she's doing and saying, unfortunately. I'm a new mom, and I can promise you, if I EVER caught my kid using words like that, or making that disgusting, trashy video, she'd get a beating and the computer would be destroyed, but i'm also pretty confident that whatever the "thing" is when she's older, i'll make sure I know all about it, how it's used and how it's not to be used. It's absolutely appalling how checked out some parents are, then they have the nerve to ask "how on earth did this happen?" Trash is as trash does.

    Posted by Tess July 25, 10 07:25 AM
  1. The apple obviously didn't fall to far from the tree. Her parents are to blame with their foul language and their attitude. If that were my kid, I would be forcing her to issue a public apology to anyone she offended. Why the parents are defending her is beyond me - they should be apologizing with her. And yes - I am a mom of two children who will be held responsible for their actions.

    Posted by Mom of 2 July 25, 10 01:42 PM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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