Parent's Guide to Child Security and Cyberbullying
By Anna Bauman
As technology creates more ways to share information, photos and videos instantaneously, there has been a noticeable rise in cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a new form of bullying that occurs when electronic devices or technology are used for taunting, harassing or threatening behavior.
The anonymity of the Internet makes cyberbullying a common - and stressful - problem for younger computer users.
There are differences between traditional forms of bullying and cyberbullying, but for many, cyberbullying has severe effects. Social media networks, emails, videos and photos can create an atmosphere where a victim is bullied 24/7, as opposed to a direct point-of-contact with a traditional bully. Studies show that those who experience cyberbullying also experience face-to-face or contact bullying as well.
Cyberbullying has detrimental effects on victims and can result in depression, loss of interest in school and noticeable personality changes. It is imperative that cyberbullying is recognized, quickly dealt with and corrected, as children must have a secure environment in which to thrive. In some cases, cyberbullying that has not been dealt with has led to children and teens committing suicide.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying involves the use of electronic devices and social media networking sites to share disparaging messages, photos, lies or rumors about someone. Sometimes it involves hacking someone's account and then using it to wreak havoc. A cyberbully may hack a victim's Facebook or email account, and then send inappropriate messages to a mass group of students.
Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying in several ways. One danger associated with cyberbullying is that threats may be posted or shared anonymously. Additionally, online messages, photos and videos do not go away; once shared, they can linger on indefinitely. This can make it extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible, to determine the original source of the bullying. Someone may create a fake online identity, and then post videos, photos or spread rumors about the victim, while keeping their identity hidden. It can take a lot of labor and police intervention to track down an original IP address and locate the bully.
Cyberbullying Facts and Figures
The National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics found that from 2008-2009, 6% of students from the sixth through twelfth grade experienced cyberbullying. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that in 2011, 16% of all high school students experienced cyberbullying. According to Do Something.org, 70% of students have witnessed bullying online. Unfortunately, Do Something reports that only 1 in 10 victims will inform an adult about the cyberbullying. Due to the prevalence of cyberbullying, it is recommended that children and teens have a shared family computer rather than personal computers.
All electronic devices may be used for cyberbullying such as computers, cell phones and tablets. Anything that has Internet access and can access social media networks, email and instant messaging programs may be used for cyberbullying. Cyberbullies may send and share messages, photos and videos through a variety of ways. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook are frequent cyberbullying mediums. Users often set up fake or anonymous accounts then begin sharing rumors, photos or videos that attack the victim's character. Sometimes the anonymous person may friend or follow the victim, other times they use the account to spread false content among the victim's friends or schoolmates.
Recognizing Cyberbullying (Victim and Bully)
Parents should regularly monitor their child or teen's online habits and look for signs of cyberbullying. Pay attention for signs that indicate your child is a victim as well as victimizing others. Keep in mind that if your child or teen is a cyberbullying victim, they might not tell you. Look for any sudden, drastic changes in social media or texting use; a sudden increase or decrease could indicate cyberbullying activity. Watch how your child or teen behaves after online usage; a child or teen who is cyberbullied may have a noticeable mood change after using social networking sites. If your child or teen suddenly loses interest in their social media accounts and asks to shut them down, they might be a cyberbullying victim.
Signs that your child or teen might be a cyberbully include children spending unusual amounts of time on social media networks, and then shutting the screen down when a parent or adult walks by. Cyberbullies often take pleasure in their online harassment and you might hear them laughing after sending messages. They may sneak on the computer at all hours of the night and refuse to answer questions regarding their computer usage and activities. Cyberbullies often create fictitious accounts to hide their identity. If your child or teen is a cyberbully, he or she may be using multiple social networking accounts.
Coping Techniques for Cyberbullying Victims
It is crucial that children who are cyberbullied know how to respond and cope. It is important that victims not react or respond to cyberbullying. For example, children may be tempted to get back or retaliate; this won't help the situation and will only exasperate things. Document evidence of cyberbullying. From emails and text messages to screenshots on Facebook or Twitter, all cyberbullying evidence must be documented and kept. Never hesitate to contact authorities. Cyberbullying is serious, and though not all states have laws on the book regarding the actions, rules and regulations are continually changing. There are cyberstalking, stalking and harassment laws that often address a cyberbully's actions. Contact school officials, website administrators and local authorities if needed.
Steps for Parents and Teachers
Parents and teachers may take a two-fold approach to cyberbullying. First there is prevention, second is response. Helping children learn steps to prevent cyberbullying can help increase their safety awareness while online. Children must know how to act responsibly and safely when using the Internet. They must keep their personal information private and be wary when someone sends a friend request. Children and teens should only accept friend requests from someone they know and trust.
If a child is a victim of cyberbullying, parents and teachers should focus on helping the child and document all evidence. Parents run the danger of not taking cyberbullying seriously or overreacting to the problem. For instance, some parents may feel that cyberbullying isn't as serious as it truly is. Other problems arise when parents overreact and punish the child or teen for the bullying. Parents should notify the child's teachers and guidance counselor and inform them about the cyberbullying. Teachers should be on the lookout for any in-school bullying as well. Cyberbullying is a serious crime that has detrimental effects on victims. It must be dealt with in a swift manner.
These resources provide helpful tools for parents, teachers, and IT policymakers. By understanding how cyberbullies operate, you can prevent threats and protect young Internet users.