As cyberbullying concerns rise all over the country; parents, educators, and lawmakers are banding together to try and come up with an effective solution. That said however, in the interim, it’s important that parents have reliable resources where they can read, share, and discuss these issues with other parents who are looking for the same advice/support. As parents and online safety advocates, we need to be there for each other so that we can be there for our kids. We can’t sit back and wait for laws to change and conform to our needs. We have to educate ourselves and be on top of what’s going on in our children’s online world. That said, even when laws are implemented, they only go so far—the responsibly inevitably lies with the parents.
It’s important that parents know which signs to watch out for when it comes to online issues like cyberbullying and sexting. And it’s equally important to know what to do when they see those signs. Understanding and practicing this is, and will always be, the most effective way of preventing these issues from happening in your home.
Here are some tips from some cyber-safety experts courtesy of FoxNews.com:
1. Monitor your child’s online photos. Photo manipulation is common in cyberbullying and sexting, and can easily get out of hand if your child isn’t careful about what they post online or text to a friend.
“Turn off picture receiving/sending capabilities for children — talk to your service provider about how to do so,” advises Anna Maria Scheimreif, a guidance counselor with Medford Memorial School in Medford, N.J.
Here are a few services that I personally recommend parents check out:
Kajeet – a cell phone service specifically for kids. They offer a variety of free parental controls like talk time limits and text management.
AT&T Smart Limits – the same parental controls that Kajeet offers, but for those who want to keep their kids on their service plan.
2. Watch out for cell phones, period.“Cyberbullying can occur through any means of electronic communication device,” Scheimreif added, noting that parents and guardians are often unaware of all of the capabilities of these devices. “Buy your child a phone you can understand and control. If you can’t figure it out — regardless of whether your child is dying to have it — don’t buy it.”
3. Suggest a support network. Fourteen-year-old McKay Hatch didn’t like the foul language his friends were using, and started The No Cussing Club as a way of dealing with it. “They were victims of intensive bullying and harassment for taking a positive stand,” McKiernan said, but “Having those four or five friends to start out with, knowing you’re not alone, was extremely helpful.”
If you or your child is looking for an online solution, Yoursphere gives kids the ability to build spheres where they can talk about these things, all in a safe and friendly online environment. Other members can chime in and give advice or share their stories. A perfect example is a Bullying sphere that one member made: http://yoursphere.com/s/19792
4. Have an open conversation. One of the most important things parents can do about cyberbullying is to simply talk about it. “Parents should ask ‘what happened online today’ right after they ask ‘how was school today,’” advised Robin Raskin, editor of the site “Raising Digital Kids“.
Often, simply raising questions and having an open discussion are the best ways to find out whether children are encountering inappropriate pressure online, experts suggest.
5. Hire some online hall monitors. Raskin advises schools to put students who are leaders in “good digital citizenship” on the policy boards at school. “When students themselves have a say in what constitutes bullying and what the punishments are, we all win. Students trust other students more than parents and teachers,” she said.
A good friend of mine and education expert, Michael Dermody, talked about this exact solution. To quote him, “We need people who are old enough to be responsible and “get” the bigger picture of our cause but are young enough and hip enough to maintain credibility and an aura of “coolness” among kids.”
6. Advocate online-reputation courses in school. “It’s no longer useful for schools to say ‘not my job … this happened after school hours.’ If a student feels threatened, then parents, other students and educators all need to be involved” said Raskin. And she’s right. It’s going to take the cooperation of parents, educators, and other online safety advocates to make a change in the way schools handle these issues.
If you feel that it’s become an issue in your child’s school, make sure to talk to someone from administration. Tell them that YOU believe that there needs to be classes talking about these issues, and ask what you can do to make it happen.
7. Set — and then obey — the age limits. “If you’re under 13 you DO NOT belong on Facebook,” Raskin said.
If you read my blog at all then you know that this is a huge topic of discussion. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I founded Yoursphere.com. There are just too many social networks out there that were designed by adults and intended for adults. In addition, most parents aren’t aware of COPPA law. They aren’t aware of the fact that it’s actually illegal for their child to lie about their age to get on these social networks.
8. Know who your kids are talking to. “Don’t assume — there is no profile for a cyberbully or a victim,” warns Scheimfreif. O’Keeffe stresses that parents can encourage kids to let them know who they’re talking to online.
Websites that obey COPPA give parents access to the content that their child posts (as long as they’re under the age of 13). We provide this information to parents in our Parent Dashboard.
9. Teach kids to let it roll off their backs. It’s best not to engage people when they’re being negative and hurtful, notes McKiernan. He advises parents to tell their children: “Follow the lessons of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. If you know you’re right, don’t engage in people who are spiteful and angry.”
That’s a tough lesson for kids to learn, of course, and that’s where parents can help out. Advise your kids not to make comments or join in spiteful threads on message boards. Be nice.
“Help kids stand up to bullies online by not engaging in further interaction,” agrees O’Keeffe. Tell your kids, “Don’t forward the communication or respond back, but show it to a trusted adult.”
10. The Internet is forever. Raskin notes that parents should remember the Internet’s long memory — and should remind kids constantly of the permanence of the web. “It’s not a great place to play a prank on someone — since it never goes away and spreads like wildfire.”
Also, remind you kids that what they do online is like a digital tattoo. When they get older, schools and future employers can easily search their name to see what comes up.