While bullying is a fairly timeless occurrence, the face of it has changed through the rise of modern technology. With the advances and availability of internet devices and social media, what used to only be accomplished face to face can now effortlessly reach victims wherever they are. Cyberbullying is the name given to this new trend and is defined as bullying that takes place using electronic technology; including computers, cell phones and tablets through social media and other communication tools. The severity and pervasiveness of cyberbullying is of increasing concern, and national campaigns are being conducted to educate teens and their parents about the associated dangers and prevention techniques.
Teens who are cyberbullied are often persecuted in person as well, making them more vulnerable to the abuse. As long as they are plugged in, they can never escape the mistreatment, day or night. One of the most difficult things about cyberbullying is that messages and images can be posted anonymously, while quickly reaching a wide audience. In many cases, it can be difficult or impossible to trace the source or completely remove the harassment once it has been posted or sent. At best, teens who are cyberbullied are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, alcohol or drug abuse, poor grades and a variety of health problems. At worst, cyberbullying has been pinpointed as the culprit behind some teen suicides.
How Do I Prevent Cyberbullying?
Protecting your teen from cyberbullying can be as simple as being aware of their online activities and monitoring other forms of communication, such as email and text. While the adolescent years are a valuable time to teach your child healthy boundaries and develop trust, there is no doubt that no teen should be given free, unsupervised reign of social media and internet use. Some of the specific things you can do as a parent are:
· Discuss the sites that are and are not allowed with your teen. Know where they visit and how often. Educate yourself on what sites are popular among teens as well as how they are both used and abused.
· Tell your teen that you reserve the right to review their online communication if you think there is a concern. In order to gain your trust, they need to disclose their passwords in case of need as well as staying away from banned sites. Parental control filters or monitoring programs can help you keep tabs on your teen’s activity, but should be considered an aid rather than a failsafe. While social media and cell phones can be a fun and convenient way for your teen to keep in touch and share events, they should be considered a privilege, not a right.
· Encourage your kids to come to you if they or someone they know are being bullied online. Keep communication as open as possible and give them regular opportunities to confide any issues they may be having without fear of consequences.
· Establish rules about the use of cell phones, computers and any other access to technology. In addition to safety measures, such as keeping their password secure, help your teen understand that what goes online is potentially there forever. Even sites that claim to “delete” material have a master database and images and messages are never truly gone.
· Report cyberbullying to the proper authorities, depending on the content. Cyberbullying violates the terms of service with most social media sites and internet service providers. Threats of violence, sexually explicit messages or child pornography should be reported to the police as well as the school in order to address what may also be a physically hostile school environment.