In this technically savvy generation, cyberbullying is on the rise. We have recently learned of several instances where the relentless cyberbullying of specific teens has led the victims to commit suicide. The internet provides a sense of anonymity for children who may find it easier to say something they would never dare to say in person. The messages may be sent from phones or computers and have the intent of hurting someone with information that is emotionally embarrassing, humiliating, or hurtful. But the one aspect that many kids don’t consider is that these postings on the social media can be forever documented. While the kids may be acting impulsively, the results can have long term effects. College professionals, employers, or individuals whom the kids meet in their futures, may research this information and find the inappropriate postings, photos or texts. Such information could become a liability. The growing trend has caused states to enact legislation that makes electronic communication intended to coerce, intimidate or harass a federal crime. Legislation takes particular aim at cyberbullying over cell phones and the Internet. According to research, over 42% of teens say they have experienced bullying online. The relentless taunting has become intolerable for some and caused fatal consequences, including the suicides of too many young people.
The National Crime Prevention Council’s definition of cyber-bullying is “when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” Another expert organization, StopCyberbullying.org, dedicated to internet safety, security and privacy, defines cyberbullying as “A situation when a child, tween or teen is repeatedly ‘tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted’ by another child or teenager using text messaging, email, instant messaging or any other type of digital technology.” This generation is the first generation to grow up in a completely online culture. They have never known a world without mobile phones, internet, digital cameras, and Facebook. While such advantages to this electronic age are numerous, the pitfalls also can be devastating. Online posts that are sent by mistake or digital photos that should not have been taken can wreak havoc in kids’ lives.
What Parents Can Do
If your child complains about being bullied in school, or if you suspect that might be happening, here are some suggestions. You may find that your child tries to hide this so be extra vigilant about what is happening in the school and other activities that you child attends.
1. Keep communication open with your child and let her know that you take her reports seriously. Pay attention to how she is feeling and take notice if she starts to exhibit symptoms of depression or seems anxious.
2. If possible, keep the computer in a public space within your home. This way, if there is cyberbullying, the child will not be facing it alone. Take notice if your child is staying on the computer after the rest of the household has turned in to sleep. Secretive use of the computer may signal something is wrong.
3. Monitor your child’s online reputation. Make sure you are aware of all of your child’s usernames and passwords to the various types of accounts she has. Does she use email, Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Craig’s List, or other social media sites? Does she play online games? Indicate that you will be monitoring her activity on the sites. This doesn’t mean you have to be constantly looking over her shoulder, but it does mean that she has accountability for what she posts or says online. She may think twice about posting information if she knows an adult may be reading it.
4. Provide a safety network for your child. She needs to know that she has someone on her side to help with designing the solution for this cyberbullying situation. By supporting her, you let her know that these attacks are not her fault and she did nothing to deserve this. Help her maintain her self-confidence by finding other friends and family who support her. In handling the bullying, her self esteem will be bolstered, if she learns how she can handle the situation and learns how to stand up for herself.
5. Set up online alerts with child’s name. SocialMention.com is a site that allows you to set up an account and receive daily alerts with any mentions of your child’s information. This alert system allows you to monitor what your child is saying and what others are saying about her. It is helpful to monitor your child’s online activities to discover potential issues before they become major concerns.
6. If there are inappropriate postings appearing on a website, you can take action. File a complaint with the website. Many of the social media sites are getting better at setting up privacy settings and establishing ways to monitor inappropriate behavior online. If you find inappropriate behavior being posted at a site, contact the site’s webmaster or administrator to discuss the issue.
7. Contact the person’s parents to discuss the cyberbullying situation. Ask that the information be removed. It may be difficult to discuss these types of situations but it’s necessary, considering that your child’s reputation and mental health may be at risk.
8. Involve law enforcement if necessary. Print out the offending information or take a screen shot so that you have documentation about the cyberbullying. When working with your child’s school or law enforcement, having definitive proof will be important to defend your complaints and possibly take punitive actions.
9. Cyberbullying is real. It may start with an innocent comment or two and can escalate to something that is vicious and intolerable. Your children need to witness what behavior is appropriate and what is not. Make certain that you model the type of behavior that you expect your children to follow. Don’t participate in gossip or malicious comments about people that your children will deem as acceptable. Childhood is a part of life that goes by so quickly and should be the foundation for your child’s sense of positive values and wellbeing. Don’t let cyberbullying destroy this.
Resources for Parents to Find Additional Information and Safety Strategies