REALITY CHECK A survey of 3,700 middle school age students found that nearly a quarter of the eighth-graders said they were bullied online in a two-month period. Nearly half of 3,000 middle schoolers surveyed knew someone who was a victim or guilty of cyber-bullying in the last six months. Talk to your kids and monitor their online experiences.
Cyber-bullying is whenever kids deliberately harass someone (peers or adults) and involves any electronic technologies such as email, cell phones, page text messages, instant messaging (IM), blogs or websites. The intention is always to harm others. I’m writing today as part of a series so that parents can help their kids deal with this troubling new trend. The first step is to stop and take time to know what’s happening in your child’s world. The second step is to teach online safety tips to kids.
Here are few of many tips from my book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions to help you keep your kids safe online.
- Hold a media talk. If your child isn’t talking about cyber-bullying, don’t assume he hasn’t been affected. Let him know you’re aware of the darker side of Cyberspace. Start the discussion: “What have you heard about…” “What are the other kids saying?” Let your child know from the start using your family computer is a privilege and comes with responsibility. That privilege will be removed immediately if your child abuses your family’s rules.
- Provide clear electronic guidelines: “Never, ever put anything in an email, IM, blog, text-message or website that you would not everyone to see or would be hurtful. Never send anything you wouldn’t want said about you.” Or teach the headline test: “Would you want what you wrote printed up for all the world to read in front page headlines?” Police officers tell me that one reason cyberbullying is so rampant is that kids feel their actions can’t be tracked back to sender. Not so! Stress that new software allows law enforcement to discover the sender and are taking cyberbullying very seriously.
- Do NOT respond. Stress to your child that bullies seek reaction so don’t give the kid what he wants. Do not respond or click. It only will intensify things. If you do, the bully wins and usually will continue. Do not forward any vicious email to another party. The email, text, or message stays in your inbox. Turn off the monitor; walk away from the computer, and tell an adult. (Don’t turn off the computer. You will lose the evidence).
- Block communication. If your child is victimized change your phone number, your child’s password, and email account and talk to your service provider. Keep your child’s account numbers and passwords handy at all times. Have the phone number to your cell phone company and the URL of your computer server handy so you can change your child’s password and account in the event he is harassed.
- Don’t delete. You may need evidence to prove that your child is being cyberbullied. So tell your kid to not push that delete button too quickly. Instead save any evidence by printing out the message so you can use it later.
- Google your child. Periodically check to see what is being said about your child online. Seriously! Just put your child’s name in quotes into the search bar on your computer. How often does your child’s name come up? What kinds of comments are being said about your kid?
- Tell authorities. In some cases you may need to decide whether the situation warrants telling authorities or school officials. You may need to advocate for your child.
- Change your password. Passwords should periodically be changed and never given out. By the way, when’s the last time you changed your family’s password or your child’s password? Why not do so right now?
Cyberbullying is painful stuff and your child needs your empathy. So watch your child a bit closer. Tune into her emotional signs. Don’t let your child be victimized. And don’t let your child victimize others. In some cases, cyberbullying has caused depression and suicides amongst victims. Do what you need to do to protect your child.
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Portions of this article are adapted from Michele Borba’s latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions (Jossey-Bass) which is available for order now.