Cyberbullying Prevention Tips

My kids are young.  They are young enough that they don’t have their own cell/smart phones yet. But I dread the day when I will be hearing that all too familiar question that parents with kids have these days “Can I have my own cellphone? All my friends have one.”   That’s the sign of the times. Today, kids are an exception to the norm if they don’t have their own cell phone.   A local university here, Wayne State University, conducted a study that showed that 78 percent of 1,236 students texted at least once a day, and more than half of them texted more than 10 times a day.   Another interesting fact of the study was that about half the middle and high school students say they’ve abused social media by doing various thing such as bullying their classmates, spreading rumors, stalking their classmates, or pressuring others to send sexually suggestive texts or pictures. Let’s face it, there are so many hormones flowing through teenager’s bodies which affect their decision making. Thus sometimes normal teen jealously leads to violence or bullying if left unchecked. I am sure every parent has heard stories of kids trying to commit suicide after being bullied by some picture or video of them that had been spread online. Unfortunately, the sharing of content online to hurt someone is all too common and most likely not an isolated incident as many parents would like to believe. The study indicated that 16.3 percent admitted to sharing private or embarrassing pictures with the intention to hurt someone.

So, what exactly is cyberbullying? Cyberbullying refers to practice of using technology to harass, or bully, someone else. Bullies used to be restricted to methods such as physical intimidation, postal mail, or the telephone. Now, developments in electronic media offer forums such as email, instant messaging, web pages, and digital photos to add to the arsenal. Computers, cell phones, and PDAs are current tools that are being used to conduct an old practice (Definition from US-CERT). Forms of cyberbullying can range in severity from cruel or embarrassing rumors to threats, harassment, or stalking. It can affect any age group; however, teenagers and young adults are common victims, and cyberbullying is a growing problem in schools. And Cyberbullying can happen in an instant, with text messages being received instantly, it is easy for someone to cyberbully another individual at any time of the day.

So, the debate comes down to should the parents monitor their children’s online behavior? According to the Wayne State study, only 37 percent of parents do monitor their children’s online activities. Although kids must have privacy and autonomy, the key is to have the ability to monitor social networks and keep the lines of communication open so that the kids are comfortable to talk to their parents about their thoughts and concerns about what is going on daily. The fact is, nothing is private online. And once something is online, it is very hard for it to be taken back. Remember, nothing is truly anonymous. I have run across some tools in the past that may be useful in helping parents monitor their children’s online activities. I will be working on putting together a page on this website for resources for cyberbullying and possible tools to help parents to monitor their kid’s activities online. The choice and what freedom or limitations you want your kids to have while using technology is totally up to the parents and their comfort level. But, I will post tools that I find and leave it up to the parents to decide whether they should use these tools or not.

The following are helpful tips that I have pulled together from various resources on how to deal with Cyberbullying:

  • Limit where your children post personal information online, and limit the number of people who has access to any contact information or details on interests, habits, jobs, etc. to reduce their exposure to bullies that they do not know. This may limit their risk of becoming a victim and may make it easier to identify the bully if they are victimized.
  • Avoid escalating the situation and don’t respond to the cyberbully with anger, as it is more likely that responding with hostility will most likely to provoke a bully and fuel them even more. Often, bullies thrive on the reaction of their victims, thus it may be better to try to ignore it initially. Your child will not be intimidated by a cyberbully if he does not open messages sent by them, therefore have your child not read or open messages from bully. Changing your child’s email may stop unwanted messages or block the messages on social networking sites. Internet service providers are sometimes able to block cyber bullies. If you continue to get messages at the new account, you may have a strong case for legal action.
  •  It is important to document cyberbullying. Keep a record of any online activity (emails, web pages, social media posts, etc.), including relevant dates and times. Keep both an electronic version and a printed copy. Make sure that you save any and all emails and/or messages sent by the cyber bully because they may be needed to take action.
  • Report cyber bullying to the appropriate authorities. If you or your child are being harassed or threatened, report the activity to the local authorities. Your local police department or FBI branch are good starting points. It may also be appropriate to report it to school officials who may have separate policies for dealing with activity that involves students.
  • Educate your children on the danger of cyber bullying. Many children will not only be frightened but also confused on what to do if they are the victim of a cyberbully. Be sure to educate your children and encourage them to tell a trusted adult if they are being bullied.
  •  Threats should be taken very seriously, and report any type of threat to law enforcement immediately. If a threat is made on your life or on your child’s life report it to law enforcement immediately even if you do not know who is sending the message. Law enforcement agencies have different policies, but your local police department or FBI branch are good starting points.
  •  Teach your children good online habits – Explain the risks of technology, and teach children how to be responsible online (see Keeping Children Safe Online for more information). Reduce their risk of becoming cyberbullies by setting guidelines for and monitoring their use of the internet and other electronic media (cell phones, PDAs, etc.).
  •  Keep lines of communication open – Regularly talk to your children about their online activities so that they feel comfortable telling you if they are being victimized. Watch for warning signs, i.e. If you notice changes in your child’s behavior, try to identify the cause as soon as possible. If cyberbullying is involved, acting early can limit the damage.

The following are online websites which provide additional information on cyberbullying:

Christina and I both love kids and we both have been bullied in our childhood. Thus, we understand the importance of the impact of bullying to all kids, and would like to take a good karate chop at helping minimize and eliminate Cyberbullying for all kids. Unfortunately, with the increased technical capabilities, cyberbullying makes it an easier to accomplish bullying than when Christina and I grew up. Hopefully the above information that we are providing will help parents understand the cyber threat to our kids and students and allow them to take action to address the issue quickly before it arises and gets out of control.

Jeff (Homecybersifu)

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