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 isn’t just new to kids, it’s 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. "There’s 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 didn’t do anything horribly wrong," he adds. "This child acted like an 11-year-old girl."
“You teach your kids pool safety, but you still put a fence up around the pool,” 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.