If you read this weekend’s newspaper, you may have come across the article that ran regarding a YouTube phenom that has young girls asking the general public via video whether they are pretty or ugly.

“A lot of people call me ugly, and I think I am ugly,” the girl above is quoted as saying in her video even though her image is that of a pretty young girl in a koala hat. “I think I’m ugly and fat.” To this, she invites the world to decide her image for her.

4.5 million views and 114,000 comments later, the majority of the feedback is left under anonymous names and filled with hate and venom towards a young girl they don’t even know.

“Y do you live, and kids in Africa die?” one comment reads.

“You need a hug…around your neck….with a rope,” another says.

Commenters called her “fugly”, made sexually suggestive innuendos, and accused her of being an attention whore.

114,000 comments. Most of them filled with hate. To a girl whose ego was already obviously fragile if she needed strangers’ approval to decide just how attractive she is.

Is this latest YouTube craze a surprise? Not if you’ve been paying attention. Teens and tweens have been known to be filled with feelings of intensity since the dawn of time. And IMAGE is the very center of their identity, specifically in how others view them. The Internet has only added to this by allowing them to be completely anonymous in a terribly public way – as in asking complete strangers to give their opinion rather than risking embarrassment in front of their closest friends.

Unfortunately, it also allows others to say hurtful and harmful things to people they don’t know, masked behind a keyboard and screen.

So what can be done to prevent this?

First and foremost, monitor your child’s Internet use. Be their friend on Facebook. Check out their videos on YouTube. Limit their access in accordance to their age. Be aware of anything they are viewing or posting on the Internet. Monitor the history of any sites they’ve visited on the Internet on a regular basis. Ensure that they are safe from potential predators that use the Internet to prowl by being ultra aware of their activity online.

However, all that would be useless without giving them wisdom over the Internet.

Kids should be taught proper Internet etiquette: that words they use online hurt just as bad as words said in public, and they should think before they type. On that same note, anything they post online can be accesses forever and can be seen by anyone. Things they post now might haunt them years down the road.

Third, both boys and girls need to be constantly reminded of the difference between reality and make-believe. The beauty industry has made a killing through very effective advertising that would have you believe you have to be flawless to be beautiful. But the thing is, even the models themselves don’t look that perfect. Thanks to the art of computers and photo airbrushing, models can appear pounds lighter, have unblemished skin, possess no wrinkles, and have full and voluptuous hair. This is not real.

Fourth, the increased use of the Internet, particularly social networks, has dramatically promoted a sense of urgency in teens and tweens for instant attention. Their social lives have been taken over by screentime, sometimes the only way they see their friends outside of school. Because of this “virtual” world they live in, it causes them to make choices, both online and off, they wouldn’t normally make and aren’t inline with your family’s morals. Encourage time away from electronics and set in family time with your kids, giving them the attention they are actually craving from you. Even if they fight you on it, and it’s probably guaranteed they will, it’s also a sure bet they’ll inwardly appreciate the steps you’re taking to be close to them and will have a better chance at making positive choices in their life.

Finally, understand this is a difficult time for tweens and teens. This age group is as delicate as they get.  Caught between childhood and adulthood, it’s hard to know where to belong and where they fit in.  And their egos are so fragile that negative words can tear them down so much easier than positive words can build them up.  It’s important to let them know you’re on their side, understand they’re going through a rough time, and are there to listen.  And it doesn’t hurt to remind them that this is only temporary.

As one positive commenter put on the Pretty or Ugly girl’s video:

“1) you are indeed cute. 2) the hat is adorable 3) please don’t worry what others think about your looks. You will be different in 5 years, and very different in 10. However you look, you will be unique and special. There are infinite varieties and men and women who enjoy all of them, so that’s never going to be an issue.”