Fast Company

Arkansas Teenager Sues Mom for Facebook Harassment

Arkadelphia Water Tower

Denise New, of the improbably named Arkadelphia, Arkansas (improbable to a Philadelphian like myself, at least), is being sued by her 16-year-old son for harassment, largely due to actions taken on Facebook. It's funny and it makes you think--in a fleeting, smirking sort of way: Just what kinds of rights do parents have over their children's online identities?

The story has big gaps missing but seems to start with the young Lane New's Facebook postings. Some of his commentary is, according to his mother, unsavory, with the only given example being an angry, 95 mph drive home after a spat with a girl (which, let's be honest, is not that unsavory. It combines two of my most indelible memories from that year of my life: being angry at girls and driving too fast). Denise discovered these worrisome posts after realizing that Lane had left himself logged in to Facebook on her computer.

But Denise allegedly didn't stop there. She reportedly proceeded to read her son's posts, becoming more disturbed all the while and even engaged in some sort of discussion with her son's friends. Denise calls this discussion "a conversation between my son, me, and his personal friends," while Lane refers to it as "posting things that involve slander and personal facts about my life." After that, Denise supposedly changed the password on both Lane's Facebook account and his email, which is remarkably effective, as it stopped Lane from simply using another device to log in.

Lane, understandably upset, delivered a handwritten letter to his local courthouse, accusing his mother of harassment and invasion of privacy--she'll face these misdemeanor charges at the Clark County courthouse next month. It's probably worth noting that Denise does not have custody over her son--the boy moved in with his grandparents after his mother's "messy divorce" that allegedly left her with undefined mental health problems.

One line jumped out at me in particular: "He left it logged in on my computer. It's not like I stole his laptop," Denise said. But I'm not sure her alleged snooping through, writing on, and then blocking her son's account is necessarily less harmful than stealing a laptop--she is, in effect, accused of stealing a large part of his online identity. Denise claims she acted out of motherly concern, which is certainly a defensible position, but her entire attitude belittles the importance of her son's Facebook account. She thinks what she did is a 21st century version of reading her son's diary and forbidding him to see certain friends. Her son sees it as an invasion of privacy, malicious hacking, and online harassment.

Without passing too much judgment, Denise does make one good point: "If I'm found guilty on this it is going to be open season" on parents. Maybe that's not such a bad thing--not that this is necessarily a lawsuit-worthy action, but it sparks a conversation on the online rights of minors, who, after all, are some of the most active social networking users on the Internet.

[Image via Wikipedia]

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6 Comments

  • Guest117

    Wow people, a parent is a parent and they have the right to do what they wish in concern to their childs life and interaction

  • MarkmBha

    Mom went too far: changing passwords; contacting his friends.
    Best she just have a word with him, not invade is account!

  • Paul Fountaine

    Kids are already given way too many "rights". We blame parents for outcomes, then we give their kids the right to sue over their Facebook account?

    This is so beyond ridiculous. Loony mom? Maybe - not enough information to make a reasoned judgment. If the facts about speeding are true, the kid should be sitting in jail awaiting bail.

    Here in CA your kid can't receive an aspirin from the school nurse without your approval, but they can and do receive permission to have an abortion or suicide counseling without parental notice. We are living in upside down world.

  • Sylvia Lafair

    This is a time of such madness, such inability to see the bigger picture. Before I became an exrcutive coach and team enhancement expert I was a family therapist. That hat went on as I read this article.

    If taken in context, understanding the dynamics of families, this is neither about the rights of minors and especially not about how to keep the social media mavens free to social media.

    It's about a youngster headed for trouble, real trouble. Driving way too fast isn't cute or excusable. Just ask any one who lost body function or a dear relative to an ugly car crash.

    This youngster is screaming angry at his parents for their "messy divorce". He lives with grandparents who seem incapable of helping so he went to the authorities. I used to see this all the time. Here's a youngster who has absorbed all the havoc and is too young to do something about it. So he is looking for help for himself, his parents, his grandparents. Instead this will be a case of superficial freedom about a Facebook account.

    Here is the clue, the son left himself logged in to Facebook on his
    mother's computer. HE WANTED HER TO FIND OUT!!!

    Instead of getting help this will end up being another polarizing superficial issue that could ultimately lead to ugly consequences.

  • Chris Cairo

    Stop the madness. The boy is a minor. Parents should be able to monitor their kids online activities, texting, tweeting and phone conversations. Kids are not adults. Parents need to set limits, monitor behavor and somtimes restrict their kids actvities if they believe it is in the childs best interests. That is good parenting. We need more of it.

  • Peggy Keller

    I disagree that this will be "open season" on parents. If Denise had not lost/given away custody of her son 5 years ago, then perhaps. But, since she is not the custodial parent, this is a very different case. The posts that she posted on the stations website make it pretty clear in about 10 seconds why she doesn't have custody.