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Cyberbullying (Part 2 of 2)
What Parents Can Do to Reduce Cyberbullying Threats
Part II of a two-part article on Cyberbullying
by Joel D. Haber, Ph.D.
will be a part of your child’s internet experience at some time in
their lives. Your child will either be a target of it, be involved in
doing it, or will observe cyberbullying among others. The reality is
that no-one is immune. Even “well-adjusted” children can fall into
nasty, negative behavior when talking online. The nature of online
conversation allows users to write things they normally wouldn’t dream
of saying if they were face-to-face.
As parents, the more you
know about cyberbullying and talk about it with your kids, the more you
can prevent it and not be caught unprepared. It is important to create
an open, two-way communication environment with your kids in regards to
these difficult and sometimes embarrassing cyberbullying situations.
Here are some tips to manage these issues as your children grow and
their computer usage increases.
1. Learn the language of the
internet used by your children and their friends. This shorthand
language is becoming more widespread among internet users and is even
edging its way into the classroom. It allows kids to communicate
quickly and in groups – often in the security of knowing that parents
and teachers won’t catch on. Do you know the following text
abbreviations: AYT, DIKU, IMO, KPC, MOSS, POS, WUF? Check your
knowledge against The Online Mom's IM & Texting Glossary!
2. An Ounce of Prevention reduces the risk of your child being bullied or having your child bully others online by:
your child to not give out their full name or any personal information
online, especially passwords, phone numbers, where they live, etc.
them to never write or post anything that they wouldn’t feel
comfortable showing to a close family member. It’s known as “the
grandma rule”. If you wouldn’t want your grandma to see it, then don’t
- Do not respond to any email or IM from an unknown person.
passwords that are not easy for someone else to figure out (no
birthdays, pet names, etc.) Password privacy is mandatory - even for
best friends! However, passwords should not be private to you.
Protection of your child always comes first.
- Ask your child to save any communication (IM, email, text message) that is mean, upsetting or makes fun of them or others.
the location of a computer - if you know your child well, and have an
open, trusting relationship it may be okay to give them use of a
computer privately. Having a computer in an open space can also be a
way of telling them that there are no secrets. This is a personal
decision, best made by knowing the openness of your child and your
ability to communicate with them effectively.
Questions to ask your children about their computer use and any
cyberbullying experiences (depending on age of your child):
you use instant messaging? Who do you talk to? Do you ever get any
messages from people you don’t know? What do you do when that happens?
- Do you have a buddy list? Let’s go through it together.
- Do you know how to block people from sending you messages?
- Which websites do you visit?
- Do you have a blog? Any pictures of yourself online? Would you show me?
- Do you participate in any message boards or chat rooms? Which ones? What’s your screen name?
you know what Cyberbullying is? Have you seen that happen to someone?
Have you ever participated in it? Has it happened to you?
- How would you respond if someone were bothering you online?
- Who would you go to if you felt threatened online?
Remember, being non-judgmental when speaking to your child is critical to the process of building a trusting relationship.
Should you spy on your child?
one thing to read your child’s emails and private messages when you
suspect there is a problem or when your child appears depressed or
withdrawn. Safety concerns always take precedence over privacy. It’s
quite a different matter when a parent disregards all privacy and spies
on an everyday basis. The only time I suggest you spy on your child’s
online activities is when you have a real emotional or physical safety
concern. If this is the case, talk about it first with your child. If
they think you’re spying without having that initial conversation, they
will lose all trust and that is very difficult to win back.
goal in parenting is to build trust and bridges so they talk to you
when serious things happen. A blatant disregard for their privacy will
push them to trust elsewhere. Let’s not make that mistake.
Social Networking Sites for Teens
These are the hottest places for your children to be and younger and younger kids are finding these sites. Facebook is now in the high school realm, and other sites like Friendster.com, Xanga.com as well as the still-popular MySpace.com
are but a few of the sites in the burgeoning business of social
networking. Social networking is here to stay, so you need to have a
conversation with your child about their activities on these sites, and
whether they have a blog or online journal. Ask to see their page as
an opportunity to create an open dialogue together. To check if your
child has a MySpace account, go to http://search.myspace.com and then type in your child’s name, email address or school.
a profile may not be a problem, unless your child is giving out
personal information, posting provocative photographs or using their
page to bully others. Use these opportunities for discussions with your
child, rather than making them confrontational. You can also put up
your own MySpace page and require that your child put you on their
“friends” list which allows you access to their page.
How to Handle Cyberbullies
best response to cyberbullies is no response at all! Cyberbullies want
a reaction, so it’s best to tell your child not to respond in any way.
If your child insists on responding to someone, they can say “Stop
writing, I’m not interested”.
Other actions to take:
on your child’s account from the person sending hurtful mail, so they
cannot contact you again. Many hosting sites have this feature.
- If there is repeated cyberbullying, change your child’s email address or screen name, only giving it out to trusted people.
search for your child’s name using Google or one of the other search
engines. This will help you see if they are on any sites you don’t know
about, maybe leaving themselves open to abuse.
- Forward emails to the cyberbullies email host. Most companies now have “contact us” or “about us” links to report such abuse.
- Contact the website host if any bullying comments or pictures of your child show up on a website and ask them to be taken down.
the school of any problem your child may be having, if any of the
perpetrators go to the school or if you feel your child is not safe
from an online situation.
- Find out other information about cyberbullying through volunteer organizations: www.haltabuse.org; www.cyberangels.org, www.wiredsafety.com
cyber-world is here to stay, and with that will come cyberbullying. As
parents, you have a great opportunity to communicate with your kids by
learning their language, and finding out what they do online. The
internet provides us with an opportunity to communicate with our kids
on their turf, so don’t turn a blind eye. Get in the game with them; be
interested in what they are doing online and spend time with them while
they are there. We want our children to trust us, so they turn to us
first when they get into a problem situation. After all, isn’t that
what good parenting is all about?
Part I of this article appeared on Thursday, September 18, 2008.
Haber is a Clinical Psychologist and has devoted more than 20 years in
practice to better parenting and helping children, teens and adults
lead more productive lives.