Cyberbullying and your Children

Cyberbullying. A rather hot topic today, wouldn't you say. Even the term cyberbullying has been debated as to whether or not it is exclusive to children or can be used when it comes to adults as well. The event that led to all of these conversations came after an adult woman (you know the story by now) was threatened. A death threat. Perhaps some feel that is limited to adults. Those people would be wrong. Kids can be mean. Kids can be violent. (Do I need to remind anyone of Columbine?) So, the way I see it, anyone can be the victim of cyberbullying whether or not you are a child or an adult. So, that being said and seeing as today as been declared Stop Cyberbullying Day, I think it is important that we look at what we can do to help our kids.

While most interactions [online] are positive, increasingly kids are using these communication tools to antagonize and intimidate others. This has become known as cyber bullying. A Media Awareness Network survey in 2005 showed that 34 per cent of Canadian students have been bullied and 27 per cent of those kids were bullied over the Internet.

Hiding behind a computer screen or text message, one can feel free to threaten and think they are safe. There is no face to face contact, so they tend to be meaner, more aggressive and have less tendency to fear being caught.

The anonymity of online communications means kids feel freer to do things online they would never do in the real world. Media Awareness Network research from 2005 shows that 60 per cent of students pretend to be someone else when they are online. Of those, 17 per cent do so because they want to "act mean to people and get away with it". Even if they can be identified online, young people can accuse someone else of using their screen name. They don't have to own their actions, and if a person can't be identified with an action, fear of punishment is diminished.

What can parents do?
# Stay aware. Know where your kids are hanging out online. Be aware of the people they chat with. Keep logs. Make sure you are aware of what your children are posting online and where. Including phone numbers, addresses and schools.

# Encourage your kids to come to you if anybody says or does something online that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. EVEN IF they know this child. Especially if they know the child. Stay calm and keep the lines of communication and trust open. If you "freak out" your kids won't turn to you for help when they need it.

# Encourage your kids to have their own moral code of conduct. That whole "Do unto others..." motto still works.

# Let them know that telling an adult when they are being bullying online is NOT wrong and will NOT get them into trouble. It could save them.

# Finally, do not be afraid to call the police if you feel the threats or bullying are going too far or are disruptive. You have a right to protect your child.

Take action if your child is being bullied online:

* Watch out for signs that your child is being bullied online - a reluctance to use the computer or go to school may be an indication.

* If the bully is a student at your child's school, meet with school officials and ask for help in resolving the situation.

* Report any incident of online harassment and physical threats to your local police and your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

* If your child is bullied through a cell phone, report the problem to your phone service provider. If it's a persistent problem, you can change the phone number.

Maybe if we can begin to halt this kind of bullying at a young age, maybe just maybe women like Kathy Sierra won't have to be afraid to leave her own yard because of threats.

Cyberbullying. Online Threats. Cyberstalking. Call it what you want, but do all you can to protect your children. It is our job.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Jenn Satterwhite also blogs at Mommy Needs Coffee, Mommybloggers and Aggroqueen.

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