Protect Your Child from Cyberbullying
by: Linda Criddle
Cyberbullying involves hurting others using online tools. While physical bullying usually reaches its peak in elementary school, according to one study, more than 30 percent of middle and high school students report being cyberbullied.
Unlike physical bullying, cyberbullies can deliver an onslaught of accusations and threats at any time of the day or night. They can take and alter photos in damaging ways; then they can post them on social-networking sites, such as MySpace, and add insulting comments. Sometimes, pretending to be the victim, they create fake blogs to attack the victim’s friends or to post embarrassing videos.
It is important to understand that attacks a cyberbully posts can last forever. Schools, employers, and others who search the Internet to check references or gather other information, even 10 or more years down the road, may come across the cyberbully’s malicious remarks. These remarks may cause employers and other authorities to take a dim view of the victim.
How to help
Telling kids to just turn off the phone or stay offline is NOT an option. The online world is their connection to their peers, and turning these tools off just isolates them further.
There are specific actions you and your kids can take to prevent or cope with cyberbullying:
- Never share information about their online activities, such as their gaming name or passwords, that could be used against them.
- Never respond to a cyberbully’s attacks, which only escalates the abuse.
- Save abusive messages or websites as evidence in case the bully needs to be reported to authorities.
- Report abuse—Every Internet service should have a code of conduct and way for you can to notify them about abuse.
If cyberbullying does begin, it helps if its victims can seek support and friendship. Cyberbullies are much more attracted to an isolated victim. Encourage your child to report the bullying activity and discuss the experience with you. It is a myth that “weaklings tattle.” Those who speak out and get help are the ones with healthy self-esteem and the courage to stand up for themselves.
Victims of cyberbullying are not at fault. They shouldn’t be punished for inadvertently sharing personal information with bullies or for not coming forward sooner. Bullied children must feel that those in authority will listen to them and support them.
If your child bullies
Finally, if your child is cyberbullying, it is critical to make him or her understand that actions taken in a virtual world can inflict real pain. Cyberbullying cannot be dismissed as “kids being kids.” Studies show that cyberbullies often fail in significant ways later in life. They are considerably more likely to be convicted of crimes, have failed relationships, and have trouble getting and keeping employment because they haven’t learned to get what they want in nonaggressive ways. Cyberbullies may also find themselves facing criminal prosecution for their online actions.
Establishing zero tolerance of cyberbullying, and assuring your children that they will be supported should they become victims are critical steps in providing a positive online environment for your family.
Linda Criddle is president of LOOKBOTHWAYS, Inc. and author of the award-winning book, Look Both Ways: Help Protect Your Family on the Internet from Microsoft Press (2006).