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Back to School: Cyberbullying and Digital Safety Tips

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Perhaps this year is the first year your child has been required to use a computer for school. Maybe it’s the first time they’ve gone to school with a smartphone in their backpack. No matter what the circumstance, now is a very important time to provide clear guidelines for your child regarding their use of technology. Doing so will help them have a healthy digital experience, which means avoiding cyberbullying, privacy exploitation and interacting with strangers.

Cyberbullying

It’s scary and sad to think that someone might be bullying your child, and thanks to the ubiquity of social media, it’s harder than ever to keep potential bullies at bay. After a certain point in your child’s life, it becomes unreasonable to expect that you can keep them off of social media altogether. 81% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use social networking sites.

Cyberbullying typically occurs via text messaging, social media posts and emails, but has extended even further by the use of apps like Yik Yak and Kik. While cyberbullying/bullying is a word used by many, don’t confuse it with someone just being plain mean to your child. There’s a difference. Cyberbullying is when another person is repeatedly interacting with another to provoke them, slander them, or torment them. In fact, Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has several pages dedicated to the causes of, approaches to, and signs of bullying. Tolerance.org is a particularly good source to refer your child’s teacher to.

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If you suspect your child may be being cyberbullied, here are some signs to look for:

  • Have you noticed any sudden changes in their social media habits?
  • Are they suddenly spending much more or much less time on social media?
  • Have they started blocking people from their online profiles?
  • Have they canceled any or all of their online profiles?
  • Do they seem more irritable or distant?
  • Do they avoid social situations that they used to enjoy?
  • Have they started avoiding school by pretending to be sick?

If you’ve noticed these behaviors, I urge you to talk to your child, talk to their teachers, and educate yourself further on how to address bullying. A great resource is stopbullying.gov. If you know that your child is being bullied, please follow these steps:

  • Do not respond to the bully
  • Make copies of the bullying so that it’s documented
  • Block the bully from contacting your child on all technological devices and social networking sites
  • Ask that your child take a break from technology

Additionally, there’s a great app, StopIt, which provides a way to help your child combat cyberbullying. It allows users to document the instance of cyberbullying and send it to parents, teachers, or trusted authorities, report bullying they observed, and more. For more details, read the article we wrote about it here.

Privacy Exploitation

The level of privacy teens use varies greatly between sites and apps and, sadly, there’s a good chance they’re uploading too much personal information. No mainstream social media site deploys the same privacy practices that we do at Yoursphere. We welcome kids and teens of all ages, and follow the very important – and very necessary – children’s online privacy guidelines.

Certain sites encourage an environment that dismisses the use of privacy settings. For instance, only 24% of teens on Twitter have private accounts. But, in terms of disregard for children’s privacy, Twitter is nothing compared to MeetMe.

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Interacting With Strangers

As the name suggests, MeetMe encourages users to meet up offline and it’s no secret that this site is a favorite of predators. In fact, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is suing MeetMe for collecting personally identifiable information from minors who cannot legally consent to distributing that information. Clearly this is not the sort of place you want your child to spend their time. If your child is using MeetMe, talk to them about why it is a dangerous place for them to be, block the site and remove the app.

These tips just scratch the surface of the things you can do to ensure that your child has a safe online experience this school year. Browse our site for more information on what you can do protect your child’s online safety. That said, I hope your child has a great year!

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