This article appears in Make the Grade.
Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying, according to statistics from i-SAFE, an internet safety education foundation. Surprisingly, over half of young people who are cyberbullied do not tell their parents when it occurs — most likely because they fear that if they tell, parents will take their phones away in response.
“Today, kids are getting connected to the internet at younger and younger ages. They’re exposed to the internet at home as well at school and their friends’ homes. A parent and guardian can allow kids access to the internet, but they should be very vigilant on their child’s online activity and communicate with them often on the subject,” said Joel Mesa, education director/school coordinator, Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade County.
What cyberbullying looks like
Cyberbullying is using the internet, cellphones or other technology to send or post images or text intended to hurt or embarrass another person. Some examples include making a threat through a livestream gaming system, posting a slur, spreading a rumor via text message, or pretending to be someone else online to trick or harass someone.
While the damage can be painful and even prompt suicidal thoughts or actions, 81 percent of youths say that teens cyberbully because it is no big deal, Mesa said. Kids don’t think about the consequences.
Parents need to do their homework to best decide what safety controls or filtering softwares (both free and paid) are best for their own family and situation, Mesa said.
“It is imperative for parents to be aware what their kids are doing online. The parents should talk with their kids about cyberbullying and other online issues regularly,” Mesa said.
Tips for parents:
— Keep the computer in an open area at home, such as the living room or the kitchen, to make it easier to monitor activity.
— Maintain access to a child’s social networking and email accounts. Inform kids that you may review their online communications if you think there is a real reason for concern.
— Create your own accounts on the social networks your children are members of and “friend” them.
— Ask for passwords but inform your child that they will only be used in case of an emergency.
— Ask children to show what they know how to do online, as well as their favorite sites.
— Get to know a child’s online friends.
— Be clear about what sites a child can visit and what they are permitted to do when online.
— Search Google for your child’s name, and look at profiles and any postings about them.
“If the child is being cyberbullied, parents should talk with him or her and listen. They should show love and acceptance,” Mesa said. “Some signs that can be red flags that a child is being cyberbullying include wanting to stay home from school, sadness, spending a lot more time or a lot less time online, a dip in grades and withdrawing from contact with classmates,” Mesa said.
Don’t respond online to the bullying. Keep evidence by printing or saving emails, photos and screenshots of posts.
Block the email address or phone number the cyberbullying is coming from.
Report the cyberbullying to school officials, to the internet or cellphone service provider, or to law enforcement, depending how serious it is.
“If a child sees cyberbullying, parents should teach or reinforce that asking the person to stop cyberbullying and support the target are the right things to do; and of course, the child can also anonymously report the cyberbullying,” Mesa said.
For more information, visit stopbullying.gov or wiredsafety.org.