It used to be that bullies were found lurking in the corners of playgrounds, demanding lunch money or issuing threats, far from the watchful eyes of the yard duty personnel. These days, though, they can come right into your own home. Their new playground – the internet with its instant messages (IM) and social networks. According to the National Crime Prevention Council’s website (www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying), cyber bullying affects nearly half of American teenagers. How can you keep kids from becoming victims? And what can be done if someone you know is or has become the victim?
Cyber-bullying is not limited to online social networks; it can happen through cell phone text messages, instant messages as well as any electronic medium. Sometimes the bullying is in the form of angry, mean messages; sometimes it comes through spreading vicious rumors and lies about the victim or publishing pictures without consent. It can also come in the form of individuals tricking victims into giving out personal information. Sometimes, people create fictitious profiles or personalities in order to not be recognized. Whatever form, it is hurtful to the victim and needs to be addressed in the proper way. Unfortunately, many teens do not believe that cyber-bullying is a big deal. It can, though, have tragic consequences for the victim.
The first and most important thing that can be done is to talk to kids. If parents know what kids are doing online, it will be easier to get a jump on any bullying should it begin. As stated previously in the article on social networking, being one of your child’s “friends” on the social networks keeps parents in the loop. If something starts there, parents will know.
Okay, so, let’s say someone is being bullied online, what can be done? First, print out any bullying messages, photos and/or posts to have documentation. If the bullying is coming through text message on the cell phone, contact the service provider to get copies of all text messages. Encourage the child to NOT respond in kind. This can be difficult for kids because the first instinct is to “strike back.” These messages or posts should not be forwarded. If the child begins receiving threats via text or IM, it is especially important to document these attacks, and they are attacks. If the student bullying the child is a student at the child’s school, by all means, the administration must be notified. Know, though, that what school can and will do is limited. They should, though, be able to contact the student and the parents regarding the situation. If all else fails, though, local law enforcement could be notified. This may seem extreme, but especially in the case of threats, it may be necessary. It is also possible to block the communications. This type of activity should be reported to the site moderators, such as Facebook or Myspace or other social network. They can be helpful in identifying the bully and closing the account if necessary.
Bullies thrive on power. This is true for in person or online bullying. The key is to take away that power. Not reacting is the best way, but also the most difficult. Getting help from authorities is also important. But the single most important thing for you, as a parent or as a child, talk about it, for a child – talk to your parents, not your friends. Your parents will be able to help in ways your friends cannot. Parents, get familiar with the safety centers of any social networking site, and report any bullying to the site. Teach you kids about blocking and privacy tools available at these sites. Let them know that this behavior is not okay and it should be reported.
There are many resources online with information and tips to help parents and teens. Some of them are: www.stopcyberbullying.org/, www.cyberbullying.us/, and www.stopbullyingnow.com/.