Cyberbullying is more than just “kids being kids.” While it generally starts as a face-to-face encounter with someone the victim knows, texts and social media can quickly evolve the situation into widespread harassment and public humiliation. Digital abuse or “cyberbullying” can take many forms from sending mean messages or threats, spreading rumors, posting unflattering pictures or pretending to be someone else online. More than 80 percent of teens use cell phones regularly, and about half have experienced some kind of abuse through social and digital media.
“Cyberbullying is a growing issue and it’s critical that young people understand the consequences of what they post online,” says Ann Cosimano, General Counsel of ARAG®, a global provider of legal solutions. “Even something intended as a joke could reflect badly on them later when they apply for college or a job. And if remarks are intended to hurt or harass someone, the sender could lose a cell phone or online account. As laws in every state become stricter, cyberbullies – and their parents – are more frequently facing legal charges for harassment.”
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, an annual event created to unite communities and educate the public on how to protect children from the effects of bullying. It’s a good opportunity to talk with your children and find out more about their school and online experiences with cyberbullying. Consider these tips to as a way to start the conversation and stay safer online.
“Once your child has a personal phone or social media account, it’s time to explain the consequences of what’s posted,” says Cosimano. “Set – and keep – boundaries that consider loss of phone or computer privileges if damaging pictures or messages are posted or forwarded.”
- Make sure teens know that what goes online, stays online. “Any electronic message is, or can be, made, public very easily,” says Cosimano. “I remind my kids regularly: if you don’t want everyone to know, don’t send it online. Better yet, follow the old adage, if you’d be embarrassed if it was published on the front page of the newspaper, then don’t write it.”
- Encourage your children to tell an adult if they see cyberbullying happen. Let them know they will not be punished if they are the victim and reassure them that being bullied is not their fault.
- If your child is harassed, keep all cyberbullying messages as proof. Depending on the severity of the message, parents may want to involve the school or the police. While going directly to the bully’s parents might provide relief, it is not always practical or possible. In this case, letting the school, the cell phone carrier or Internet service provider intervene may be an effective first step.
- If necessary, block the person who is sending harassing messages. You may also need to get a new phone number or email address and be cautious about who receives the new contact information.
- “Make sure teens never share passwords with anyone except a parent,” says Cosimano. “Don’t write it down or place it in a place where others could find it.”
- Parents may want to keep the computer in a shared space such as a family room and limit Internet access in a teen’s room. “It’s also important to have times when everyone simply turns off all the technology. It’s tough when everyone is busy, but set boundaries at meal time or a certain time in the evening when everyone turns off cell phones, tablets and computers.”