Hurting someone with a simple clickSpreading rumors and bullying is nothing new. But today's kids are dealing with something much more sinister: cyberbullying. Kids are now using their cellphones and computers to hurt, humiliate, and harass each other. And it's reaching epidemic proportions. A recent survey found that 42 percent of teens and 97 percent of middle schoolers have been bullied online. And it's not just nasty comments they're getting, but demeaning text messages, embarrassing photos, and snide opinion polls. What makes this type of bullying so disturbing is that it is constant, pervasive and very, very public.
What is cyberbullying?Whether it's creating a fake Facebook or MySpace page to impersonate a fellow student, repeatedly sending hurtful text messages and images, or posting cruel comments on the Internet, cyberbullying can have a devastating effect. Nasty comments, lies, embarrassing photos and videos, and snide polls can be spread widely through instant messaging (IM) or phone texting, and by posts on social networking sites. It can happen anytime -- at school or home -- and can involve large groups of kids. The combination of the boldness created by being anonymous and the desire to be seen as "cool" can cause a kid who normally wouldn't say anything mean face-to-face to show off for other kids. And because it's happening in cyberspace, it's almost always completely undetectable by parents and teachers.
Why it mattersNothing crushes kids' self-confidence faster than humiliation. And just imagine a public humiliation sent instantly to everyone they know. Sadly, hurtful information posted on the Internet is extremely difficult to prevent or remove, and millions of people can see it. Most cyberbullying happens when adults aren't around, so parents and teachers often see only the depression or anxiety that results from being hurt or bullied. This emotional damage can last a lifetime.
Parent tips for all kids
- Give them a code of conduct. Tell them that if they wouldn't say something to someone's face, they shouldn't text it, IM it, or post it.
- Ask your kids if they know someone who has been cyberbullied. Sometimes they will open up about others' pain before admitting their own.
- Establish consequences for bullying behavior. If they contribute to degrading and humiliating people, tell them their phone and computer privileges will be taken away.
Parent tips for elementary school kids
- Keep online socializing to a minimum. Let them use sites like Webkinz or Club Penguin where chat is pre-scripted or pre-screened.
- Explain the basics of correct cyber behavior. Tell your kids that things like lying, telling secrets, and being mean still hurt in cyberspace.
- Tell kids not to share passwords with their friends.
Parent tips for middle school kids
- Monitor their use. See what they're posting, check their mobile messages.
- Tell your kids what to do if they're harassed. They shouldn't respond or retaliate, they should block bullies immediately, and they should tell you or an adult they trust. They shouldn't delete the messages because in persistent cases, the content should be reported to a cell or Internet Service Provider.
- If your kid is doing the bullying, establish strict consequences and stick to them. That goes for mean or sexual comments about teachers, friends, and relatives.
- Remind them that all private information can be made public. Posts on friends' walls, private IMs, intimate photos, little in-jokes can all be cut, pasted, and sent around. If they don't want the world to see it, they better not post or send it.
- Don't start what you don't want to finish. Game chat can get ugly fast. Make sure your kids are respectful because hurtful retaliation happens all the time.
Parent tips for high school kids
- Tell kids to think before they reveal. At this age, kids experiment with all sorts of activities, many of which should not be made public. Remind your teens that anything they post can be misused by someone else.
- Remind them they aren't too old to ask for your help. There are things some kids can handle on their own, but sometimes, they just need help. Coming to their parents isn't baby-ish, it's safe.