As parents we have read about pedophiles and other disturbing personalities who trap our children and teenagers online. We have warned our children and teenagers to avoid conversations with strangers they encounter online. We have taught our children and teenagers to be aware of the dangers of instant messaging and chat rooms.
But what happens when our children and teenagers are tormented anonymously by their very own peers?
Cyber bullying is the new tyrant on the block. Cyber bullying targets sexuality, physical attractiveness and friendships of our children and teenagers.
Victims do not know what to do or where to turn. Cyber bullies harrass victims anonymously. The psychological damage is horrific. The victim’s own peers have turned traitorous and there is no where for them to go. Teenage suicides have been linked to cyber bullying as well.
Just last week Facebook followed MySpace with the initiation of protections against cyber bullying. These safeguards against cyber bullying are steps in the right direction.
But of course the real safeguarding begins at home.
What can parents do to protect children and teenagers from cyber bullying?
1. Know what your children and teenagers are doing online. Keep your computer in the center of your home, so you can monitor all activity.
2. Tell your children and teenagers that you want to know if they are being bullied on any electronic device such as text messaging, instant messaging or online.
3. Tell your children and teenagers that you want to know if something degrading is being circulated online about them. Pictures are particularly humiliating.
4. Remind your children and teenagers to ignore insulting text messages and IM’s. Bullies feed on a response.
5. Keep all emails which are harassing as evidence.
6. Encourage your children and teenagers to be an enigma online. Screen names should not expose their gender, personal information or age.
7. Teach your children and teenagers how to use blocking features on cell phones and while online.
8. Consider changing an email.
9. Teach your children and teenagers to not be a silent bystander. Bullies have far less power without an audience.
10. Teach your children and teenagers to leave a cyber situation that gets heated and uncomfortable.
11. Contact your school district about educational programs that are being used to help children and teens deal with bullying both online and on the playground.
12. Contact your local authorities about continued harassment. Cyber bullying can be a crime in many states.
Bullies nowadays not only lurk on our playgrounds and street corners but also in electronic gadgets such as cell phones, email, instant messages, Web sites and phone pagers. As parents we have to keep the lines of communication open with our children and teenagers. We can not let our children and teenagers be silenced or humiliated by these cyberspace cowards. Our children and teenagers need to know that they do not have to endure harassment in any form. Our children and teenagers need to know that cyber bullying is illegal in many states.
But most of all, our children and teenagers need to know that support is available and that they are not alone.