With school out for summer, children are out and about enjoying some much-needed sunshine and play. As a parent, you probably have many rules in place for how to keep your kids safe when they leave the house. You tell your children not to talk to strangers and make sure their friends’ parents keep guns put away and locked up.
But at some point, kids make their way back indoors to play online computer games, catch up with friends on social media and play consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation. Almost 93 percent of kids 12 to 17 are online, according to Internet Safety 101. And let’s be honest, kids much younger know how to do basic Internet searches these days.
Have you set up rules and precautions to keep your kids safe online?
Even if your child is just starting out on the Internet (my 6-year-old already has a few online educational games she likes to play), you need to be informed of what dangers are out there and how to protect against them. One of most common — though there are many more — is cyberbullying.
What is Cyberbullying?
StopBullying. gov defines cyberbullying as “bullying that takes place using electronic technology.” Electronic technology can mean “devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.”
Cyber bullying can happen 24/7. Gone are the days when a child goes home from school and the bullying stops. Now kids are being reached on their cell phones and home computers. Just like on the school yard, a group of kids in the online world may have access to your child at all times. The only difference: Many of the bullies are able to hide behind email addresses and fake instant messaging names, leaving your child unsure of the bully’s identity.
What You Need to Know:
- A study conducted by attorney Parry Aftab, who is considered one of the founders of cyberlaw, discovered that of 450,000 U.S. and Canadian middle school students polled, only 5 percent would tell their parents if they had been cyberbullied. One of their biggest fears was that their parents would punish them, as the victim, and take their Internet privileges away.
- 52 percent of children and teens report being cyberbullied.
- Most parents — as many as 5 out of 6 — are not even aware their child is being cyberbullied.
- Some victims of cyberbullying, in an attempt to fight back, can shift roles, becoming the bully. Often, this happens as a sort of back-and-forth between the victim and bully, which tends to prolong the behavior.
- Boys are more likely than girls to be threatened by cyberbullies.
Where Does Cyberbullying Take Place?
With more and more devices able to connect to the Internet, cyberbullying can come from many directions. Online, most bullying comes from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Instagram. Children can also be bullied through email, or on sites like ask fm and Yahoo Answers, where kids (and the general public) can ask questions and receive answers on hundreds of topics. These types of Q&A sites open the door for classmates — or complete strangers — to respond in a way that could bully your child or teen.
Bullying is also quite prominent on mobile devices. More than 80 percent of teens and pre-teens regularly use cell phones, making them the most popular form of technology and therefore the most common way for bullies to reach their targets.
Messaging apps such as Snap Chat, Kik, Voxer and Whatsapp provide more ways for bullies to attack. SnapChat allows you to send pictures to friends that then “magically” disappear. Many children, believing that their picture also disappears completely from the Internet, will take and send racy pictures they otherwise would not have. Talk to your kids about how various apps and sites work, and make sure they know what is and isn’t private.
Less well-known is bullying through game consoles like Xbox or Wii. Nowadays, these consoles are capable of connecting to the Internet and may include messaging between users. Your children can connect not only to classmates and friends, but also to people they may have never even met before.
Know what features are available with the games your child is playing. Does the game allow private or instant messaging? Does the game allow for role playing, where the user may become so immersed in their “fantasy character” that they either partake in bullying or become a victim?
Never heard of some of these apps and sites? You’re not alone: Most parents haven’t either. (I hadn’t!) I would strongly suggest that if your child is raving about a particular app or site, you should check it out thoroughly!
Tips to Prevent Cyberbulling:
- Talk with your child about bullying in general as well as cyberbullying. Start as early as age 6 or 7.
- A fun site that gets your young children involved and teaches them about not being a bully themselves is Tweenangles.org
- Be aware of what your kids are doing online. What sites are they visiting and what activities are they participating in?
- Test these sites out for yourself, and friend your children on social media sites.
- Set up clear rules about what should and should not be posted or shared online. You wouldn’t want your children posting inappropriate pictures of themselves that could be potentially used against them at a later date.
- Tell your child to never give out passwords or personal information to anyone online, even if the “asker” is a friend.
- Monitor apps downloaded on mobile devices and familiarize yourself with any you are unsure of.
- Keep a list of passwords and let your children know that, as the parent, you may view their online history and communications if there is a need to be concerned.
- Set up parental filters and monitoring programs for devices and computers.
- Keep the home computer in a central location with the screen visible.
- Most important, let your children know that you are there to help them if they face cyber bullying.
- It’s just as important that kids are made aware of the potential for legal ramifications, should they choose to become a bully. Law enforcement agencies across the country are becoming more savvy in detecting cyberbullying and identifying those behind it.
For even more tips and great questions to get the conversation started, download this PDF from Internet Safety.
Has your child been the victim of a cyberbully? Have you talked to your kids about how to stay safe online? Share in the comments.