In an earlier post, GCP covered New Jersey Police Detective Sergeant Thomas Rich’s presentation on sexting (Texting, Sexting: What You and Your Children Should Know, November 22, 2011). Today’s focus is cyberbullying, featuring perspectives from Sgt. Rich and others.
Cyberbullying, says Sgt. Rich, is “the next generation of hate”. He recommends that we teach our children that their words are like bullets; once you pull the trigger on a comment you can’t get it back. Saying “I was only joking” or “I’m sorry” after the fact doesn’t change anything. Children feel empowered to write mean comments when they are far from their target; Rich calls this “keyboard courage”. Tell your child that if he wouldn’t say something to someone in person, don’t say it on-line. Be clear that if he receives negative comments about someone else, he should delete them, don’t comment and don’t forward them on.
Some of the newer websites that enable you to talk to strangers (e.g., http://www.ChatRoulette.com) make it easier for children to be anonymously mean, and expose them to incredibly inappropriate behavior. A good way to ask your child if he knows about these sites (without inadvertently encouraging him to visit them) is to ask if any of his friends have mentioned these sites (e.g., ChatRoulette) and if so, what he has heard about them. Don’t be surprised if even your middle schooler knows about them. Without pushing the panic button, explain how dangerous these sites can be.
The Cyberbullying Research Center (http://www.cyberbullying.us/)is filled with resources to uncover and combat cyberbullying. Their factsheet, “Cyberbullying Identification, Prevention and Response”, which is available on their site and found here, is a very informative series of questions and answers about the effects of cyberbullying and how to stop it. Warning signs that a child may be a victim of cyberbullying include: if the child abruptly and unexpectedly stops using his computer or cell phone for long periods of time, appears nervous when an instant message, text or email appears, is uneasy about going to school or outside in general, or becomes abnormally withdrawn from friends and family members.
What can you do if your child is cyberbullied? According to the Center, the most important thing to do is to make sure your child feels (and is) safe and secure, and provide him with unconditional support. Let him know through your words and actions that you want what he wants, which is for the cyberbullying to stop, in a way that does not make his life even more difficult. Your child needs to know that any intervention on your part will be rational and logical, and that you are completely on his side. If it makes sense to do so, you should seek his input on how the situation can improve. You should explain to him the importance of meeting with school administrators (or a teacher you and your son trust) to discuss the matter, and you may also want to contact the father or mother of the offender. It is very important that you cultivate and maintain an open and candid line of communication with your son, so that he is willing to come to you if he is being victimized.
What if your child is the cyberbully? The Cyberbully Research Center says this could be the case if your child is acting in ways that are inconsistent with his usual behavior when using the computer or cell phone. Suspicious behavior can include: quickly switching screens or closing programs when you walk by, avoiding discussions about what he is doing on the computer or cell phone, using multiple online accounts or an account that is not his own. How can you help a cyberbully change his ways? We’ve combined recommendations from the Center and Olweus, a national bullying prevention training program, to offer the following suggestions:
Acknowledge the problem. Let your child know that you are aware of the bullying, that you take it seriously and that you will not tolerate it. Explain to him how that behavior inflicts harm and causes pain in the real world as well as in cyberspace.
Teach your child the consequences of his actions. Depending on the level of seriousness of the incident, and whether it seems that the child has realized the hurtful nature of his behavior, consequences should be firmly applied, and escalated if the behavior continues. If the incident was particularly severe, parents may want to consider installing tracking or filtering software, or removing technology privileges altogether for a period of time.
Be an involved, hands-on parent. Monitor your child’s activities, especially the time spent on the computer and phone to make sure that he has internalized the lesson and is acting in responsible ways. If the school is involved, keep the lines of communication open with school officials and teachers. Know who your child’s friends are.
Teach and model positive behavior. Reinforce kind, compassionate behavior, and make sure you demonstrate these behaviors yourself.
Seek professional help for your child if needed. Bullying can be a sign of other serious antisocial behavior, which may require more help than parents are qualified to give.