5 things you can do to protect your children from cyber bullying: Internet Scambusters #284
Today we focus on an important topic we've never addressed before: cyber bullying. First, we present some facts on the extent of cyber bullying that we think will surprise you. Then, we suggest seven things you can do now to help protect your children from cyber bullying.
Let's check out today's...
Internet Safety: How to Protect Your Child from Cyber Bullying
The rapid rise of cyber bullying -- where children (and sometimes adults) embarrass, harass, threaten or even stalk their victims using the Internet, text messaging and cell phones -- should NOT be taken lightly, say experts.
Unlike the classic schoolyard bully, who shouted insults across the playground or intimidated victims into handing over lunch money, today's cyber bullies don't need to be physically present to do their dirty work. They can reach their "targets" any time and anywhere, using a variety of new communications tools.
These tools can reach large "audiences" with emails and postings of digital photos, video and audio designed to humiliate the victim or damage his reputation and relationships.
While bullying takes many forms, common practices include stealing someone's online name and using it to spread nasty rumors and comments; retouching photos to embarrass the victims; or secretly recording conversations and posting them online or attaching the audio files to mass emails.
Although most perpetrators (and victims) are tweens or teens, troubled adults have been known to participate in cyber bullying (although some feel that if adults are involved, it shouldn't be called cyber bullying).
In a 2006 incident, the mother of a teenage girl's friend posed as a 16-year-old boy, and established an online "friendship" with the girl. When the "boy" started sending cruel messages, the teen girl (who suffered from depression) committed suicide.
In the majority of cases, however, cyber bullying is confined to the adolescent world, where it's become pervasive. And fortunately, suicides are rare, but they do showcase the severity of the problem.
The statistics on cyber bullying are quite surprising -- and very sobering. According to a 2004 i-SAFE survey of 1,500 students in grades four through eight:
- 42% of children have been bullied while online.
- More than one-third of kids have been threatened online.
- Nearly one-fourth of those surveyed had received at least one threatening email or other type of message.
- Nearly 60% of children reported getting hurtful communications in the past.
- BUT 58% of respondents NEVER told their parents about what had happened.
The National Crime Prevention Council claims almost half of all American teens have been exposed to cyber bullying.
"Cyber bullying may...indicate a tendency toward more serious behavior," reports the National Cyber Alert System. "While bullying has always been an unfortunate reality, most bullies grow out of it.
"Cyber bullying has not existed long enough to have solid research, but there is evidence that it may be an early warning for more violent behavior."
What can you do to protect your children from cyber bullies?
Here are seven recommendations:
- Because many kids are afraid to talk with parents about the problem -- sometimes fearing they'll lose their Internet or cell privileges -- you should be proactive.Hold a discussion with your kids about the issue of cyber bullies, and lay down simple ground rules for what information they can post in emails and on the Web, and what information should stay private.Tell them to inform you of any threatening, vicious or otherwise suspicious communications. Recognize they may well be reluctant or unwilling to tell you because of peer pressure and/or fear of reprisal. Do your best to get them to communicate with you, and take their concerns about retaliation seriously. Some of the steps below could make the situation worse, so stay sensitive to your children's concerns.You can find advice on teaching children to avoid Internet scams (and more) at Teach Your Children To Recognize and Avoid Internet Scams.
- Explain to your kids that you expect them to treat others with respect and kindness -- in other words, you won't tolerate THEM becoming bullies. Also stress that they should AVOID responding to threats and hostility with counter-threats and more hostility. Often, this just escalates the situation.
- After identifying the cyber bully (or bullies), file a formal complaint with the perpetrator's cell phone company or Internet Service Provider.
- Report cyber bullying to school authorities or law enforcement if cyber bullying includes threats of violence or predatory sexual behavior. Whether the local police will actually act on your complaint depends on their policies and (obviously) the extent of the threatening behavior.School boards, however, often have broader standards in place for putting a quick stop to cyber bullying, so you may want to report problems to them first.
- Ask your child to save and print any evidence of cyber bullying, including emails, bulletin board postings, instant messages, etc. Be sure that he or she also documents the relevant dates and times of the incidents.If you decide to visit the perpetrator's parents to resolve the problem, arm yourself with proof of the bad behavior, so the matter doesn't turn into "he said/ he said."
- Most important, take your children's complaints seriously. If you notice that your child has recently become withdrawn or morose, or has lost interest in activities she used to enjoy, these may be warning signs that she's being victimized by a cyber bully.
- Neither you nor your children should put up with cyber bullying, but avoid the temptation to engage in some form of cyber revenge.Past incidents have shown that this only makes matters worse.
You can find more on cyber bullying and how to protect your kids at Cyber bullying: Anti-social behavior online.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.