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Preventing Cyberbullying: By, Claudio V. Cerullo, Ph.D. «

Preventing Cyberbullying: By, Claudio V. Cerullo, Ph.D.

In today’s bullying world, whether it is physical abuse, verbal abuse, or
simply social exclusion, bullying has always been a problem for children and
teens in our schools nation-wide. Unfortunately, the bullying that you may
have seen, heard, or even dealt with when you were a child is no longer the only threat facing our children in today’s global world. As technology has so advanced, so too have the means by which our children can provoke, torment, tease, and agonize one another. In tfact, over the past five to ten-years now, a new form of bullying has emerged dominate that has ruined countless children’s lives and left many parents feeling helpless and hopeless. It is titled Cyberbullying and it is now one of the biggest problems facing children today in the classroom and in the home
Cyberbullying, like conventional bullying, typically involves an aggressor
preying on a weaker individual to feel better about his or her own insecurities.
Unfortunately, unlike conventional bullying, because it takes place primarily
online and through other electronic communications such as text messaging,
cyberbullying is often more difficult to identify and prevent. By the time that
many parents realize their child is being bullied, the hidden psychological trauma that
they have sustained is overwhelming. And in many cases, the pain and
sufferering caused by cyberbullying becomes so severe, that it may even lead to
suicide, as in the tragic case of thirteen-year-old Megan Meier from Chesterfield Missouri, whose death brought national attention to this issue.

Sadly, however, the attention surrounding Megan Meier’s death and the
subsequent trial of her alleged tormentors, which ended recently with a
dismissal, only lasted for a short term. In fact, just recently at teachantibullying.com we shared a study from the Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health that showed parents continue to treat cyberbullying as a secondary threat. This is why why we are taking the time today to help you understand how to recognize the signs and symptoms of cyberbullying and to establish some critical steps that you can take to be a proactive parent it happens to your children and other children you may know in your community.

First, Keep your home computer in a centralized location.

It is increasingly common for teens to have their very own personal computers or
laptops. While this presents many benefits for them as students, it also
prevents parents from being able to effectively monitor their child’s Internet
habits. If you keep the family computer in a public area of the house, it will
be easier for you to keep tabs on what websites your child is visiting and how
often.

Keeping your computer in a common location can also help you identify when your child is upset by something they have found online. During their teen years, children are still maturing emotionally and socially. Often, rather than talking about what is upsetting them, they will try and work out their problems themselves and keep their feelings sealed. If your child is dealing with their cyberbullying issues in the privacy of their room, you may not learn how deeply it is impacting their life until it becomes too late.

Secondly, Join the Social Network Yourself – But in “Lurk In Only” Mode

One of the best ways to understand what goes on inside the world of social networking is to join a social networking website yourself. If you use the same social networking site as your child or children, you can keep a closer watch on their online activities. There’s a good possibility that your child will bristle at accepting your friend request, but if you don’t bother them too much or encroach on their space, you should be fine for the moment.

Remember that although you are trying to protect your children, social networking sites still offer an important place for them to develop valuable social skills. If you are going to use your Facebook or MySpace to monitor your children, I recommend going into “lurk In Only” mode. If you constantly force yourself into your child’s conversations, there is a strong chance that you will drive them to create a new secret account that you cannot monitor as easily. This will also cause them to lose trust in you as a parent.

Thirdly, Talk to Your Children Early and Often About Internet Safety.

Do your children use Facebook? Are they on MySpace or have a Twitter account? What are their usernames for these sites? Do they understand their privacy settings and rights? There are hundreds of questions to ask your children about their Internet use, and you should be asking every single one of them. While this may seem daunting, especially if you are unfamiliar with much of the Internet yourself, it is a critical part of keeping your child or children safe while online.

Help your kids understand how to recognize when they are being cyberbullied by teaching them what is and is not acceptable behavior online. Usually, this is common sense. For example, your child should already know it is not right to tell lies about people. Make sure that they understand it’s not right to tell lies or spread false rumors about other people or people they know online either. Conversely, if someone is spreading lies or rumors about them online, teach them that it is OK to tell someone. Often, cyberbullying incidents escalate, because a victim seeks to defend oneself, rather than reporting the attack.

Fourthly, Monitor Your Children Online

Ideally, your children will answer all of your questions openly and honestly. Unfortunately, anyone who has spent any time around teens knows that the perception of privacy is incredibly important. That is why it is important to consider investing in computer monitoring tools. There are numerous software programs that will allow you to limit the time your child spends on the computer and also monitor exactly what sites your child logs in to.

Unfortunately, knowing where your child goes online is less important than knowing how your child acts online. If you do not want to invest in a product to help monitor your child while online, you can use Google Alerts to send you a daily e-mail whenever your child’s name gets mentioned online. While this is effective on a basic level, a Google Alert does not effectively search the Hidden Web, where the majority of the information your child might be sharing actually exists.

Some parents may be concerned that they are “spying” on their children, but that is an oversimplification. Being a “Online spy” implies that you are only interesting in finding something bad. Be honest with your children and tell them that you will be checking in on what they do online from time to time. Hopefully, their awareness of your presence will be enough to modify their intended behavior.

Fifth, Work With Your Children’s Teachers, School Administrators and Other Parents

Cyberbullying is rarely a problem that affects only one child. That is why you should consider reaching out to others in your community to help develop a network of adults who can work together to help prevent cyberbullying. Because most cyberbullying incidents involve other students anyway, it is perfectly appropriate to get your school district involved. If your child suspects who the bully is, you can tell school administrators and they can arrange an intercession. At the very least, they can monitor your child more closely to make sure the bullying doesn’t continue during school hours. If the bullying is happening during school hours and on the school’s computer network, it may even be possible for the school to track down the bully and deal with the problem directly.

If you yourself know who the cyberbully is, do not be afraid to contact his or her parents to try and resolve the issue yourself. The odds are good that they do not know that their son or daughter is a cyberbully and they will want to discuss the problem with them directly. Conversely, however, if you don’t have any substantial proof that a particular child is responsible, it may be a bad idea to confront the parents directly. Consider instead calling them over the phone or e-mailing them and respectfully asking for their assistance.

Sixth, Please Teach Your Children to Keep All of Their Personal Information Private

One of the cruelest forms of cyberbullying occurs when a bully hijacks another student’s account, locks them out, and then pretends to be the victim. By the time your child has regained control of their account (if they ever do), their name and reputation could have been smeared across the Internet, potentially hurting
their chances of getting into college or even finding a job.

As a saftey tip, ensure that your child never has their account hijacked, teach them the importance of keeping their personal and private information (such as their birth date, phone number, and address) out of their social networking profile. Additionally, work with your child on creating a super strong password that none of their classmates would be able to guess. Some specific tips include using a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Making a pnemonic phrase into a password is also a good tool.

Lastly, Know Your Legal Rights as a Parent-In some cases, especially when
cyberbullying involves physical threats of violence, pornography, or severe
harassment, it is not out of the question to contact the police. While this is
certainly not advisable under all circumstances, knowing your child’s legal
rights as a victim of cyberbullying is very important. Not all states have
specific criminals laws currently governing acts of cyberbullying, so you should
check with your local police or state police departments for more information.
Also, you should contact your local state represeative as they should also have
current policies on cyberbullying as with Pennsyalvania.

If there is no criminal law currently protecting cyberbullying in your state or jurisdiction, you may want to once again contact your local or state represeative and find out if a current bill or policy is on the house floor or perhaps establish your own petition establish a new policy or resolution. Do not be afraid to be heard when it envolves the life or wellbeing of your child or children!

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