One of my favorite things to talk about is the good that social media can do. Whether it's raising awareness about important issues, helping small business owners grow their business and change their lives, or helping people make new connections they never would have made otherwise, it's a tool that has transformed our world for the better in so many instances.
Unfortunately, there's a dark side to social media, especially when it comes to our children. Cyber bullying is a problem that has been increasing in prevalence in recent years. And it requires serious attention from parents, educators, and traditional media to help protect our children from this threat.
For many parents, we were raised in a time when people who were bullied were just encouraged to toughen up. We're beginning to learn how dangerous this can be with many tweens and teens choosing to take their own life because of the shame and horror caused by cyber bullying.
It's not just about toughening up. Here's some information about the reality of cyber-bullying and how it's affecting teens in our communities.
THE HARD FACTS:
Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
But are parents as aware as they should be? Not in the least. A mere 7% of parents have cyber bullying on their radar screen.
What are some things a parent can do right now to help prevent cyber bullying?
1. PRIVACY / SECURITY SETTINGS
Knowledge is power, and denying bullies any form of power is a good place to start. Check your privacy and security settings for each platform, especially Facebook every time it changes. Do the same for your kids.
Stranger danger has changed online; assume that no one is who they say they are until proven otherwise. If you're the parent, you should review and approve all connection for the younger set.
This is critical! Educate yourself about the dangers of cyber bullying and pass it on to your kids as well. If you're not making a point to stay on top of this threat, you'll lose your credibility and your ability to make a difference in this area of your kids' lives because you won't have a clue what you're talking about. Worse yet, they will know it.
Also, make sure your children are not bullying others! Have an open conversation about the following:
- Protecting their passwords and making sure other people do not use their accounts.
- Spreading rumors online or through texts or posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
- Stealing a person's account information and using it senselessly
- Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
- Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages (this isn't the time to preach to your children. This is a time where they need to know firmly you're on their side and trying hard to protect them).
3. LEGAL CONSEQUENCES!
The things teens post online now may reflect badly on them later when they apply for college or a job. Cyber bullies can lose their cell phone or online accounts for cyber bullying. Also, cyber bullies and their parents may face legal charges for cyber bullying, and if the cyber bullying was sexual in nature or involved sexting, the results can include being registered as a sex offender. You definitely do not want this to happen to your teen!
Balance healthy need for autonomy in teens with responsibility to protect them. Establish an agreement with your teens that says if you're paying for the connection, electricity and equipment you have the right to set conditions for its use and periodically review it's contents. If you exercise that right, do so with wisdom. This isn't about coming down on your teen for little stuff you find online but about retaining the ability to keep them safe.
5. IF YOUR TEEN IS BULLIED
Parents have to stay aware of emerging trends and threats. And above all else, work to keep communication lines open with your kids. If you sense your communication is failing, don't be afraid to call professional help if needed.
- Encourage teens to tell an adult if cyber bullying is occurring. Well over half of young people do not tell their parents.
- Keep cyber bullying messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring.
- The teens' parents may want to talk to the parents of the cyber bully, to the bully's Internet or cell phone provider, and/or to the police about the messages, especially if they are threatening or sexual in nature.
Have you had to deal with a cyber bully? What has been the most effective method to get rid of this problem? Leave a comment below!