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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Dealing with Online Bullies

The Internet has tempted many children into being mean, offensive, or obscene in ways they just wouldn’t dare if they were speaking with someone face-to-face. This unpleasant behavior has given rise to the term cyberbullying. About one third of teens say they have been bullied or harassed online, and that number jumps to 39 percent among teens who use social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

Recently, cyberbullying on Facebook got serious enough to generate a lawsuit. Denise Finkel, now a student at the University of Albany, is suing four of her former high school classmates and their parents. The teens allegedly created a group where they posted hurtful claims relating to Finkel’s sexual activity. The suit claims the activity made her feel unwanted and unwelcome in their Long Island, New York high school. Finkel is also suing Facebook for allowing the group to remain online.

Facebook plans to fight the suit but the case raises important questions about how to deal with the rising number of cyberbullying cases. Much of this and other Internet activity is not specifically addressed by existing laws. However, as of the beginning of this year, at least 13 states had begun to address cyberbullying with new rules and regulations for school officials. Administrators are now allowed to suspend or expel students who harass others online, but the process to put punishments and prohibitions in place is slow to be adopted nationwide.

Until your child’s school introduces rules to clamp down on cyberbullying, it’s important for you to be involved in monitoring online activity and safety. Many resources suggest searching for your child’s name in Google and other search engines. If an offensive group or thread exists somewhere in cyberspace, it will most likely turn up.

Also, try giving your child practical guidelines for how to deal with cyberbullying. The “Stop, Block, and Tell” doctrine is a good place to start:

Stop what you're doing and take a deep breath; do not answer or get into an argument online;

Block the person who's harassing you; for example, use your IM service's blocking feature; and

Tell a parent or another adult you trust.

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