We learned from an early age that bullies can be abusive physically or emotionally, and that they often encourage peers to act the same way towards their intended victim. The social tools of the Internet that appeal most to teens (e.g., the ability to communicate to a lot of people at once, share pictures and videos easily, or pretend to be a different personality or identity) are the tools teens use to easily and effectively humiliate others. And the potential anonymity of it all can make it difficult for parents and teens to identify and report an online bully.
How has bullying evolved?
Before Internet(or "BI"): A bully was restricted by physical location and time. They had to be pretty much standing in front of their target to deliver their verbal or physical attack. This made identifying the attacker easy. And once the victim walked away, the bullying ended.
Now: A bully can be anyone, anywhere at anytime. The Internet never sleeps. And an insulting or abusive message, once put out there, can persist forever and be seen by countless people. Plus, the Internet can be so anonymous that it may never be possible to identify an attacker, making it very difficult to stop. Finally, the bullying can continue even when the victim is safe at home. The content of the abuse follows the victim wherever they go, and can leave the teen feeling helpless.
Tools & Methods of the Cyberbully
Cyberbullying can happen in many ways. These are just some examples:
- -Sending mean text, e-mail, or instant messages
- -Posting nasty pictures or messages about others in blogs or on Web sites
- -Using someone else's user name to spread rumors or lies about someone
- -Sending repeated notes
- -Forwarding supposedly private messages, pictures or videos to others
Teach your kids how to deal with a cyberbully
Tips to avoid being a cyberbullying victim:
- -Don't give out personal information like name, address, phone number, social security number, school or even the names of family and friends. Certainly don't give out your password.
- -Don't exchange pictures or give out contact information (including email) to people you meet online.
- -Don't send a message when you are angry or upset. Once you put something out on the Internet you can't take it back. EVER.
- -Realize that anything you say or do online is never really private. If even one person can see or read it then it can be copied, saved or shared -- even if you try to remove it later.
Detecting cyberbullying and if your child is a victim:
Watch for signs that your child is being bullied online. Are they reluctant to use the computer or go to school?
- -Depending on how your child is being bullied, report any incidents of harassment to your ISP or cell phone provider.
- -Block the harassing email or IM via parental controls or privacy tools provided by your ISP.
- -Do not reply to harassing messages.
- -If bullying includes physical threats, report it to the police.
The Internet age has obviously impacted the corporate world dramatically. However, the increasing availability of Internet and media resources within the common household has had consequences that are not always apparent. Parental concern regarding child safety online has increased tenfold as phones, IPods, and computers all come equipped with ways to constantly remain connected. Not only personal devices, but computers at local libraries and schools are being utilized for social networking and Web surfing. Under these circumstances, it becomes extremely important and rather difficult to educate and maintain Internet safety and security.
What parents can do however, is teach to their kids instead of preach to their kids. While parents are aware of the dangers that lurk online, children are often blissfully ignorant. There are ways to impart knowledge about Internet safety that are creative and interactive. I recently came upon a website showcasing the teachings of Professor Garfield. Most of us are familiar with the chubby orange cat of Sunday comics, but his professor avatar is one that parents of younger children will find particularly useful. This website uses interactive games and videos to define common Internet dangers. For example, it encourages children to explore cyberbullying-what it is and how to stop it. Through the use of comedic videos starring Garfield, children can learn to combat Internet predators.
As someone who was a teenager not so long ago, I can attest to frustrations that arise from listening to parental lectures and advice. Although I now understand that my parents always had my best interest in mind, it was not so clear during my moody teenage days. Instead of preaching to children about the rights and wrongs of Internet safety, one can use resources such as the ever-charming Garfield to entertain and educate. Oh and mom, these videos are enjoyable for adults also.
The questions stand – What do we do about it? Who is accountable?
Dr. Elizabeth Englander suggests the answer to both questions. I particularly like her suggestions of how to work with school administrators. Too often, I read about parents who are blaming the schools, the schools saying they can't be responsible for things that happen outside school grounds and the child in the middle wondering how to get back to a sense of sanity in his/her world.
The fact is the responsibility is on the bully. Learning how to deal with the school-yard bully is hard, both on the victim and on the parents who want to help. It is also hard on the school who wants to help. There is no easy answer that fits every situation and we can't expect one. As a parent, you are in the best position to help your child because you know them best. You can help your child with the tips given by Dr. Englander and tips previously posted here.
Have you had to deal with a bully who has used technology to further harass your child? How have you coped?
I don't know what makes people be so cruel to each other. I wish I knew how to stop it. What has been shown to us stories such as this, by the time teens are telling adults about the torment they are feeling, it has gone too far. We, as the parents, the educators and the "trusted adults" need to listen to them when they tell us that they are being picked on. 34% of teens say that it helps to just tell an adult who will listen.
The Prince family is in my thoughts.
If you could go back in time and Phoebe came to you, what would you do to try and help?
All the advice I think is great, but I especially like the tips for older teens. When I was in high school (aka, the age that I "knew everything"), I may have hesitant to ask my parents advice. Being reminded by my parents that it was still OK to ask advice helped me.
Parent tips for elementary school kids
- -- Give them a code of conduct. Tell them that if they wouldn't say something to someone's face, they shouldn't text it, IM it, or post it.
- -- Ask your kids if they know someone who has been cyberbullied. Sometimes they will open up about others' pain before admitting their own.
- -- Keep online socializing to a minimum. Let them use sites like Webkinz or Club Penguin where chat is pre-scripted or pre-screened.
- -- Explain the basics of correct cyber behavior. Tell your kids that things like lying, telling secrets, and being mean still hurt in cyberspace.
- -- Tell kids not to share passwords with their friends.
Parent tips for middle school kids
Parent tips for high school kids
- -- Monitor their use. See what they're posting, check their mobile messages.
- -- Tell your kids what to do if they're harassed. They shouldn't respond or retaliate, they should block bullies immediately, and they should tell you or an adult they trust. They shouldn't delete the messages because in persistent cases, the content should be reported to a cell or Internet Service Provider.
- -- If your kid is doing the bullying, establish strict consequences and stick to them. That goes for mean or sexual comments about teachers, friends, and relatives.
- -- Remind them that all private information can be made public. Posts on friends' walls, private IMs, intimate photos, little in-jokes can all be cut, pasted, and sent around. If they don't want the world to see it, they better not post or send it.
- -- Don't start what you don't want to finish. Game chat can get ugly fast. Make sure your kids are respectful because hurtful retaliation happens all the time.
- -- Tell kids to think before they reveal. At this age, kids experiment with all sorts of activities, many of which should not be made public. Remind your teens that anything they post can be misused by someone else.
- -- Remind them they aren't too old to ask for your help. There are things some kids can handle on their own, but sometimes, they just need help. Coming to their parents isn't baby-ish, it's safe.
What other advice would you give to parents regarding cyberbullying?
How to keep our families safe while using technology is just one of the challenges . Enough.org has some shocking statistics on their web site. This is just a small sampling:
- Every second, $3,075.64 is spent on pornography
- 79% of youth unwanted exposure to pornography occurs in the home
- Child pornography has become a $3 billion annual industry
- 20 percent of teens have engaged in cyberbullying behaviors, including posting mean or hurtful information or embarrassing pictures, spreading rumors, publicizing private communications, sending anonymous e-mails or cyberpranking someone.
- 14 percent 7th-9th grade students reported that they had communicated with someone online about sexual things
- 30 percent of teenage girls polled by the Girl Scout Research Institute said they had been sexually harassed in a chat room. Only 7 percent, however, told their mothers or fathers about the harassment because they were worried that their parents would ban them from going online"
Enough Is Enough has developed a program called Internet Safety 101. Holly Hawkins, the Director of Consumer Policy & Child Safety (and one of our very own bloggers ) calls the program "a truly unique teaching series designed to bring Internet safety education into the busy lives of parents and other caregivers." She has witnessed how this program has really empowered parents and teachers regarding online safety.
I am not sure it is ever going to be possible to make the Internet 100% safe for all members of the family - but I do think that through education and empowerment, we can make it a safer place for everyone.
One of the disconnects between kids and adults is that kids are being raised with the technology, so it is simply part of their world. Many adults have begun to use technology regularly, but in many cases there is a definitive line between online and offline. The youth are flowing easily between on and offline and in many ways, there is no difference. They are just two sides of the same coin.
The Door That's Not Locked campaign addresses the incorrect perception of some adults that the door is closed to knowing how to protect their kids because they need to know more about the tool than their kids to keep them safe. This comprehensive site is designed to educate teachers and parents with age specific tips and information, regardless of where the starting point is.
Do you feel like you know how to protect your kids and teens online?
This is no truer now than it was when I was a teen. Second, there is a fear of losing access to the Internet if you "catch" something online that you think is "bad" (whether they did the "bad" thing or not).
We know that kids pick on kids, this is not new. It is not acceptable, but it isn't new. The difference between now and when I was a teen, is that the harassment continues in your living room via the computer, instead of only in person. I think this makes it harder on the person being picked on because they can be attacked in their home – where they should feel safe. If teens think that you (the parent) will solve the problem by taking away access to the computer, they might be less likely to tell you.
If you think your child might be getting cyberbullied, here are some tips on helping:
- Tell them that you will not punish them for being bullied (including taking away access to the computer)
- Listen to what your child is telling you without judgment and with your full support.
- Give advice on how to handle it (everything from reporting the behavior to the online provider, to blocking further online communications from the bully, to reporting anything really serious to the police)
- Get additional support from a school councilor or law enforcement if needed.
What tips do you have for a parent of a teen being cyberbullied?
At the end of the school year, she sent a nude picture of herself to a boy she liked. Sadly, it found its way around not only her school, but another as well. The school officials found out and her parents found out. Her school suspended her for the first week of the following school year, and her parents grounded her for the summer. But the worst punishment came in the form of continued tormenting from other students. Eventually, she felt the only option was to end her life.
This kind of story is tragic, but can also serve as a conversation starter between teens and parents. Just asking teens what they think about the story and unintended consequences can be a good way to open the dialog on what might be a difficult discussion to have with teens.
How have you started conversations about sexting?
According to the report, the accused had been harassing the victim for many years. When the most recent threat happened online and the arrest was made, this teenage girl became the first person in Britain to be arrested and convicted for cyberbullying. There have been various Internet laws against many things ranging from Spam to hacking for nearly as long as the Internet has been in existence . And there have been laws against harassment and threats for many years before that. Now, the laws have meshed into one to help combat cyberbullying.
There have been a hand full of arrests in the U.S., including a woman for posting fake "Casual Encounters" on Craigslist on behalf of a 17-year-old girl. In this case, she has been charged with a felony. In the Megan Meier case (the 13-year-old who committed suicide following online harassment), the woman was arrested. That case then led to the woman charged being harassed both online and offline.
Just as the Internet is a world wide phenomenon, it seems cyberbullying is as well. Do you think cyberbullying is a big problem? What do you think should be done about cyberbullying? Share your comments have thoughts on this topic below.
This is the latest news relating to adults being charged with cyberbullying, a concept started by the mother of Megan Meiers. Megan, as you may remember, committed suicide following cyberbully attacks. There is a proposed law that is called the Megan Meier Cyberbully Prevention Act.
The result of cyberbullying is never good, but because of the work of those already affected, some laws against cyberbullying are being created. What are your thoughts about the laws going in place? Too much? Not enough? Is there another way to stop this kind of harassment?
Just my own memories of being picked on gives a whole new perspective for those growing up with the Internet. When I went home, my friends in the neighborhood were not cruel, my parents were supportive and I had a sanctuary. There are a lot of teens who are being picked on now, come home and sign on to find that the harassment continues in their "sanctuary" (a.k.a. online).
According to this Forbes article, one in 10 students is affected by cyber bullying.
Since that is 10% of students, I have 10 tips that may help:
The first step is to recognize that there might be a bullying situation taking place. The signs that a child is being bullied online are pretty much the same as those that you would notice if he or she was being bullied offline. If your child falls into some of the behavior patterns below, consider the possibility that they are involved in a cyberbullying situation.
* having trouble sleeping
* feeling depressed
* mood swings
* feeling unwell
* becoming anti-social and losing friends
* falling behind in homework
* spending a lot of time online