Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queenbees and Wannabees, referred to the Internet as a “weapon of mass social destruction”. She may be right. According to the CDC, nearly 35% of youth report being bullied online.
Fortunately, there are three things that adults can do to keep young people safe online:
- Understand cyberbullying
- Recognize how it may impact a child
- Follow the top ten tips for keeping kids safe
What is Cyber-bullying?
- Harassing through hurtful, rude, or mean text messages, email, or postings on social media sites.
- Spreading rumors or lies about others through e-mail or social networks.
- Creating websites, videos or social media profiles that embarrass, humiliate, or make fun of others.
Cyberbullying differs from age-old bullying in several important ways. Most importantly, it does not have to occur in a face-to-face way. Cyberbullying occurs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In the past, children who were bullied found a safe haven at home and a bully was easily identifiable by onlookers. Today there is no place to hide and bullies may have the luxury of anonymity online.
When the threat of discovery is minimized, bullies may act with ever greater aggression. While the number of bullies in our schools may or may not have increased in recent years, there is no question about the proliferation of their hurtful deeds. A single bully can reach millions of people with the touch of a button.
Common Forms of Cyberbullying
- Flaming and Trolling: sending or posting hostile messages intended to “inflame” the emotions of others
- Happy-Slapping: recording someone being harassed or bullied in a way that usually involves physical abuse, then posting the video online for public viewing
- Identity Theft/Impersonation: stealing someone’s password and/or hijacking their online accounts to send or post incriminating or humiliating pictures, videos, or information
- Photoshopping: doctoring digital images so that the main subject is placed in a compromising or embarrassing situation
- Physical Threats: sending messages that involve threats to a person’s physical safety
- Rumor Spreading: spreading gossip through e-mail, text messaging, or social networking sites.
Recognizing the Impact of Cyberbullying
Children who are cyberbullied are most likely to:
- Have lower self-esteem
- Have more health problems
- Be unwilling to attend school
- Receive poor grades
- Experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Children, particularly teens, most often will not volunteer information about their online activities. It is your responsibility to ask and discuss.
Luckily, there are some best practices for keeping young people safe online:
- Establish an online code of conduct AND consequences for bullying behavior. Tell them that whatever they think should not be said to a person’s face should also not be said online. Make sure they know you will revoke phone and computer privileges if you discover they have humiliated or hurt someone online. Follow through.
- Ask kids if they know anyone who has been cyberbullied. Sometimes kids will share their knowledge of others’ pain before admitting their own.
- Tell kids never to share passwords. It is not uncommon for a child to log onto another child’s account to send embarrassing messages or begin rumors. Identity theft is a serious crime. Make sure your children know that their passwords are private and not to be shared with anyone other than their parents.
- Monitor. Monitor. Monitor. See what they are posting, check their mobile messages, and let them know you are keeping an eye on their activities.
- Tell kids what to do if they’re being harassed. Tell them not to respond or retaliate. They should block bullies immediately. Encourage them, even insist that they report bullying to you or to another adult whom they trust. Tell them not to delete the content of the harassing messages because persistent cyberbullying should be reported to the Internet provider, website, or law enforcement. The content can be used as evidence.
- Remind them that all private information can be made public. Wall posts, intimate photos, private IMs, in-jokes, all can be cut, pasted, and sent around. Even snapchat can be captured without their knowledge or permission. Tell them not to ever post anything they wouldn’t want their grandmother to see!
- Talk to them about Internet predators. These conversations should be age appropriate. Even young children know what a “bad stranger” is. Let them know that not everyone on the Internet is safe to talk to. Once they are middle schoolers or teens, talk to them about sexual predators.
- Even when they are in high school, teens need their parents. Remind them they are not too old to ask for your help.
- Make sure kids know that what they post is permanent. College admissions officers, future employers, future fiances, etc. are all privy to your child’s postings, no matter how old they may be.
- Online communication and texts have their own language. Familiarize yourself with the acronyms. LOL, JK, BRB, ATM, etc… Did you know ATM does not refer to the automatic teller machine? It means, “at the mall.”
These tips may sound like common sense, but they are important! Anger, hurt, and ugliness escalate at warp speed on the Internet and parents must be vigilant when it comes to their children’s safety online. If you are concerned that your child may be a bully or is being bullied online, The Peace Center can help. Call 215-750-7220 or visit www.thepeacecenter.org.
About the contributor: Karin Kasdin is the director of The Bully Prevention Resource Center at The Peace Center (www.thepeacecenter.org). She holds an M.ED from Harvard with a concentration on the media and its impact on children and adolescents. Karin has worked with young people for more than three decades in varied environments. She is a published author of five books on various subjects related to parenting, and currently writes a blog for baby-boomers on The Huffington Post.
About the blog: Positively Bucks County is the official blog of United Way of Bucks County. We focus on the news, tips, tricks and ideas from the people and organizations that make Bucks County a better place. To learn more about United Way of Bucks County, visit www.uwbucks.org. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, contact Marissa Christie at firstname.lastname@example.org.