Bullies and mean girls have been around forever, but technology has given them a whole new platform for their actions. As adults, we're becoming more aware that the "sticks and stones" adage no longer holds true; both real world and online name-calling can have serious emotional consequences for our kids and teens.
It's not always easy to know how and when to step in as a parent. For starters, our kids tend to use technology differently than we do. Kids and teens today start playing games online and sending texts on their cell phones at an early age, and most teens have smart phones that keep them constantly connected to the Internet. Many are logged on to Facebook and chatting or sending text messages all day. Even sending email or leaving a voice mail seems "so old-school" to them. Their knowledge of the digital world can be intimidating, but if parents stay involved in their kids online world, just as you do in their real world, you can help protect your kids from online dangers.
Fortunately, our growing awareness of cyberbullying has helped us learn a lot more about how to prevent it. Here are some suggestions on what to do if online bullying has become part of your child's life.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. By definition, it occurs among young people. When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition of cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking, a crime that can have legal consequences and involve jail time.
Sometimes cyberbullying can be easy to spot — for example, if your child shows you a text message, tweet, or response to a status update on Facebook that is harsh, mean, or cruel. Other acts are less obvious, like impersonating a victim online or posting personal information, photos, or videos designed to hurt or embarrass another person. Some kids report that a fake account, web page, or online persona has been created with the sole intention to harass and bully.
Cyberbullying also can happen accidentally. The impersonal nature of text messages, IMs, and emails make it very hard to detect the sender's tone — one person's joke could be another's hurtful insult. Nevertheless, a repeated pattern of emails, text messages, and online posts is rarely accidental.
A 2006 poll from the national organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids found that 1 in 3 teens and 1 in 6 preteens have been the victims of cyberbullying. As more and more youths have access to computers and cell phones, the incidence of cyberbullying is likely to rise.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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