Is your child at risk from cyberbullies?
Bullying has entered the 21st century with a style makeover. No longer confined to physical aggression or verbal taunts, it’s taking place over the Internet, via email and in the form of text messaging.
While the most vulnerable kids once knew that home was a safe haven, they’re now exposed to bullies 24-7 and subject to cruel comments or private information posted on blogs or in online chatrooms, threatening texts or pictures taken without their permission and uploaded to social networking websites. And putting a stop to it can be even more difficult than with traditional bullying, since cyberbullies can take steps to remain anonymous while they spread comments and rumors among a large network of connected kids.
Around 17% of 6-11 year olds and 36% of teens say they’ve received threatening or insulting emails or text messages or had embarrassing posts made about them online.
Who’s at risk?
Studies suggest girls are twice as likely as boys to be cyberbullied and to engage in cyberbullying themselves. Kids who do it usually single out other kids at their school (46% of kids say a friend did it) and admit to cyberbullying frequently. Access to new technology is the key: with the rise in cellphone ownership among teens, text messaging is the most common type of cyberbullying in this age group; tweens and younger children are more usually cyberbullied via email or chatroom.
How can you protect your child?
The main way you can ensure your child’s safety and wellbeing is to get involved in what she’s doing and monitor her cellphone and Internet use. If you seldom take any interest in the online world your tween or teen is part of, you won’t know when something is wrong.
Monitor her online Don’t allow your child Internet access on her computer if she has one in her room – make sure she surfs on the family computer, where you can see her. Ensure your Internet browser is set to save a history of the websites she visits so you can randomly check what she’s up to.
Warn her about cyberbullying and encourage her to tell you if she is a victim of it in any form, or if she thinks her friends may be (or that they may be engaging in cyberbullying other children).
Put her off doing it herself by explaining that it’s still bullying even if it takes place anonymously and from a distance.
Teach netiquette Make sure your child knows that she should never make unkind comments about other children on emails or on her blog if she has one. She also needs to know that she should never text or email pictures of herself, or any other child, engaged in inappropriate behavior to her friends; or reply to any potentially cruel text or Internet polls involving children she knows.
Keep passwords private Explain to her the importance of not revealing any passwords she uses for her email system or online social networking sites to her friends, however close they may be. It’s possible a friend could log on and use her online identity or email account to cyberbully another child or alter your child’s online profile or account details.
What if your child is being bullied?
As with traditional bullying, many kids don’t tell their parents they’re being cyberbullied because they’re worried that taking action might make the problem worse. If your child does tell you she’s a victim don’t dismiss it as just the odd rude text or email – kids feel particularly vulnerable if they know that text or email might have circulated around their entire school.
Tell her not to respond Getting into a battle-of-the-texts or emails will just drag her in further and there’s a risk she may engage in defensive cyberbullying.
Don’t erase any texts, emails or pictures she has been sent by cyberbullies since these will form the only evidence that the incidents have taken place (print-outs are not sufficient – you need to preserve an electronic record, so make sure any emails on public email systems, such as Yahoo, are archived).
Try to track down the bully Contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for assistance in identifying where cruel emails are originating. Using inappropriate language may well violate the terms and conditions of email services, ISPs and cellphone providers – contact the providers and ask about filing a formal complaint.
Cease contact Block further incoming emails or texts from the bully (but bear in mind they could change their email address and continue the bullying); or consider investing in a cellphone which only accepts calls from numbers you program into it.
Inform your child’s school If cyberbullying is happening during school hours or via the school’s Internet system, it has an obligation to intervene. If the guidance counselor is aware of what’s going on she can better watch out for signs that it may be taking place.
Contact the cyberbully’s parents with evidence of what has been happening. It’s likely they will be upset and shocked at their child’s activities and will take steps to educate her as to its potential consequences and remove her means of continuing it.
Speak to your local police department for guidance if your child is receiving threats or obscene calls or texts, or you feel she is at risk of physical harm.
Get help for your child if she is having trouble coping with the stress – speak to your pediatrician about counseling.