Along with trendy North Face backpacks and American Eagle hoodies, "cyberbully" is one of the back-to-school buzz words you'll be hearing a lot this fall. From Montclair, N.J. to Macon, GA, more schools are looking at how to prevent the use of technology to tease and taunt. If you've got a digital kid, he or she probably knows someone who has experienced or exchanged unkind words on the web. Earlier this summer, USA Today reported that the number of young Americans between the ages 10 to 17 who experienced online harassment increased 50 percent from 2000 to 2005. The same report (the most recent of its kind) from the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center said the number of young people who admitted they made rude or nasty remarks to another person using the Internet rose from 14 to 28 percent for the same five-year period.
I recently sat down with a distinguished panel of national experts who study and advocate for child safety on the Internet. We talked at length about the rise of cyberbullying and what parents need to know. Here is a rundown of this growing digital trend, warning signs and what you can do to help.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is when a child is harassed, humiliated, taunted or threatened via technology. It can happen through email, text message, or instant messaging. It can happen via blogging, through social networking, on video posting sites or cell phone cameras, and even in the world of video games. The rise of technology in our children's world has taken the age-old schoolyard name calling, pushes and shoves and transformed them into 24/7 attacks that transcend the safe boundaries of school and home.
Why can cyberbullying be more devastating to a victim?
A victim can be attacked at any time, any place even without his or her knowledge. And because technology is so pervasive, bullying at school can easily spill over into off hours any time of the day. No more is home a safe haven or a retreat from taunts or threats. According to iSAFE, a nonprofit that trains schools in Internet safety, "Traditional bullies typically have power over their victims because of physical size or popularity, while cyber bullies can harass victims anonymously, allowing the bully to be in a position of power regardless of size or social status." Last, through the viral nature of the web, the attacks can potentially take place in front of an audience of millions.
How do I know if my child is being bullied or is bullying someone else?
Often the signs are very similar to when a child is being bullied off-line. He or she may be withdrawn, depressed, or not wanting to go to school. Experts say often the victims of cyber bullies have bullied others. Reversing roles is common so it's important to be aware of how your child interacts with his or her peers
What can I do to prevent it?
Talk to your child from a very early age about your values. Explain that the Golden Rule applies in cyberspace and that you have high expectations.
1. Explain to your child that his or her password is private and should not be shared with others. He or she should also resist sharing buddy lists with friends because it can increase the chances of being bullied.
2. Talk with your child about privacy and why posting personal information is not a good idea. Children should never share phone numbers, addresses, school names, etc. in a public forum. A bully can often use this information against his or her victims.
3. Help your child deal with emotions. Explain that he or she shouldn't respond to a message when he or she is angry. Taking five minutes and pausing before sending off something mean can prevent a conflict from escalating, according to Stop CyberBullying.org (stopcyberbullying.org)
4. Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult if he or she is being bullied.
5. Read up on the latest trends on the Parents channel on kids.yahoo.com. Yahoo has put together a useful and user-friendly safety guide for parents.
What do I do if I find out my child is a victim?
1. Save the messages as evidence. Block any new incoming messages. Don't engage the bully
2. If it is school related (and these conflicts usually are) notify the school so officials have a heads up about the situation. New state laws are changing how much authority schools have over cyberbullying complaints. But if messages or blogging, etc. is happening on school equipment, the school may have some recourse.
3. If your child is threatened with physical harm, notify local authorities immediately.
Please share your thoughts. Have you or your child experienced harassment or other types of bullying online? What did you do about it? What do you think parents and/or teachers should do to prevent it?
-Heather Cabot, Yahoo!
Heather Cabot is also the founder of The Well Mom (www.thewellmom.com)