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John Monfredo: The Dangers of Cyber Bullying

Saturday, September 08, 2012

 

Cyber bullying can bring the bully home from school with your child.

As students start school this year and begin to interact with one another, the danger of cyber bullying lurks in every school corner. Even though Massachusetts has a very strong anti-bullying program, this form of bullying does still exist. Cyber bullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Examples of cyber bullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.

While many generations have viewed this phenomenon of social cruelty as a childhood rite of passage, research has shown that the early isolation some children experience can follow them throughout their academic careers, sometimes leading to depression, low self-esteem and even violence.

Cyberbullying is a real concern for many parents. Gone are the days when kids just dreaded an encounter on the bus or during the school day. Through cell phone texts, emails, and social media sites, bullies can torment their victims 24 hours a day. Picked-on kids can feel like they're getting blasted nonstop and that there is no escape.

Just to be clear, with bullying there has to be pure intent to cause negative consequences for the other person. It's not an accidental comment that happened to hurt somebody's feelings. Bullying online seems to create much more anxiety than in a schoolyard setting, which feels much more contained and controlled. Research states that girls tend to be cyber bullied more than boys are, and cyber victims tend to be heavy online users. If you have watched teenagers today, (heavy online users) that’s most of them.

In my conversation with many students they have acknowledged that often they don’t know who the bully is for in many cases no name is attached and they feel very anxious. Some of the students wonder, "Has the message gone out to the whole world?” Needless to say, Cyber-bullying poses a gigantic risk for our children. It affords one person the ability to assume the identities of 10, 20, 30 people who can send messages and spread rumors about the targeted victim. Friends who support bullying can be told about it. So it’s a way for a bully to torture ... unmercifully.

According to many of the students, cyber bullying can take on many forms, and cyber bullies will often adopt more than one tactic to harass someone. Some real life examples include:

  • A website which places votes for the ugliest, fattest, or most unpopular child
  • Spreading rumors or negative comments about a child through social media networks
  • Hacking into a child’s computer, stealing personal information, and posting it online or hacking into a teen’s social media network and making posts on his or her behalf.

So what can parents do about it? If you suspect your child is being teased or cyber bullied look for the signs such as the reluctance to go to school, silence about what’s happening in school, frequent lost objects or possessions, or low-self-esteem. Also, if your child avoids group gatherings, has slipping grades, appears nervous when getting an instant  message or email and is"acting out" in anger at home.

Parents need to have open-communication with their child and instead of asking if you had a good day in school ask what kinds of things they did at recess today or what happened at lunchtime today. They need to tell their children to never share personal information online and remind them not to share anything that could hurt or embarrass themselves or others. Once something is posted, it is out of their control whether someone else will forward it.

Also, limit the time children spend online and keep e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers guarded. Be sure to encourage your child to report threatening messages to the school and I would recommend that you do it with them. If your child is in danger, report the issue to law enforcement if the situation merits it.

Another common-sense approach is to never respond to a bully. Parents should print out all records of cyber bullying behavior and assess for degree of harm, including those that might require legal steps. Other steps may include blocking the bully on social media and working with email and phone carriers to block messages from the bully.

Other suggestions from online researchers suggest you should:

  • Talk with your children about cyber bullying and other online issues regularly.
  • Know the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they’re going, what they’re doing, and who they’re doing it with.
  • Tell your children that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs are one option for monitoring your child’s online behavior, but do not rely solely on these tools.
  • Have a sense of what they do online and in texts. Learn about the sites they like. Try out the devices they use.
  • Ask for their passwords, but tell them you’ll only use them in case of emergency.

 

No one ever said that parenting was going to be easy! Parents, please keep in mind that this is serious and as a parent do not minimize the impact of bullying.  It can be devastating and lead to health, academic, and emotional consequences. Please stay on top of the situation to make sure your children are safe! 

 

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