Children and teenagers are spending more and more time texting friends from their mobile phones and chatting on the Internet. In fact, technology is now one of the main ways kids communicate and socially interact with each other. It’s a great way to be in instant touch – but there’s also an ominous downside: cyberbullying.
What Is Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying occurs when a child or teenager targets another kid for online or other electronically transmitted threats, teasing, harassment or humiliation. It can take place in chat rooms, through email, blogs and website postings, mobile phone texting, video game systems and other electronic formats. Cyberbullies do their damage in a number of ways, including sending mean or threatening text messages, emails or instant messaging (IMs), posting lies and rumors across a wide social network, creating a mocking web page about someone, pretending to be someone they’re not (for example, saying you’re a boy you know a girl likes, then tricking her into admitting something personal and revealing this to everyone on a social networking site) and posting embarrassing pictures of someone without his or her consent. Cyberbullies often hide behind online anonymity, but in most cases they know their victims.
If Your Child is Cyberbullied
According to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), nearly half of all teens have been victims of some sort of cyberbullying. Often this is considered a joke and not taken seriously. But when it continues, cyberbullying can be emotionally devastating. Imagine something unkind or untrue posted online about you, there for everyone in the world to see, any time of day or night. Make sure your children know to come to you if they’re victimized by a cyberbully. Be supportive and listen and take their concerns seriously. Let them know this isn’t their fault. If you learn that your child is being cyberbullied, instruct them not to respond – you don’t want to encourage the cyberbully to continue. Messages can be blocked, meaning they’re not accepted into an email or text inbox. But do not delete them; in fact, you should print out all communications from the cyberbully in case further action has to be taken. Report cyberbullying to your child’s school and also to Internet service providers and chat room and other online group moderators. If any messages contain threats or harassment, or if your child’s personal information has been posted online, report this to the police right away.
Ways to Prevent Cyberbullying
Talk to your children regularly about their online activities. Make sure they don’t give their passwords or other personal information to anyone on the Internet. This is important for general Internet safety and can also be helpful in blocking access to cyberbullies. It’s sometimes difficult to determine what is cyberbullying and what’s just a foolish prank, but if a cyberbullying incident happens, one way to prevent more is to block the bullying messages as soon as they begin. Don’t forward cyberbullying messages to anyone else. Let your children know that they can come to you about electronic messages that seem to be bullying or if they know of this happening to someone else – and that you will not judge or punish them. Talk to your children about the difference between the right to free speech and damaging and threatening cyberbullying. Explain the importance of respect and acceptable behavior and limits and let your kids know that you will not tolerate any bullying behavior on their part. The NCPC website, www.ncpc.org, has information on cyberbullying and Internet safety. STOP cyberbullying (www.stopcyberbullying.org) also has valuable information and resources for both children and parents.