Cyberbullying: What Parents Need To Know And How To Prevent It

If you weren’t aware, October has been National Anti-Bullying Month.   When I hear the word “bully”, it sometimes seems harmless.  I picture that kid on the movie A Christmas Story.  The truth is that it’s not harmless.  In recent years it’s even been taken to another level with technology to what is now called “cyberbullying“.  (I will tell you up front, I am not one to blame the technology.  And it’s my opinion that neither should anyone else.).   Cyberbullying is harrassing, teasing, embarrassing, threatening, humiliating, etc. through the use of the internet and/or digital media.  Is it a serious issue?  Absolutely, and it should not be taken lightly.  We were all kids once, and at that time everything seems like the end of the world and peer pressure can be very overwhelming.  So with 80% of all teens having cell phones today, one embarrassing photo that can spread across an entire student body in seconds can be devastating.  Here’s some staggering statistics from i-Safe, Inc.:

  • 42% of kids have been bullied online.  1 in 4 have had it happen more than once
  • 35% of kids have been threatened online.  1 in 5 have had it happen more than once
  • 53% of kids have admitted to saying mean or hurtful things about others online
  • 58% of kids have not told their parents or an adult about a cyberbullying incident
The result of cyberbullying is no less harmful than physical bullying.  It can lead to depression, lowered self-esteem, suicide, becoming bullies themselves, legal issues, so forth and so on.  There is a reason we have slander laws regarding the press.  To protect people from harmful public embarrassment, right?  But part of the problem is that we do not look at the internet the same way.  We are often far too dismissive of the responsibilities of being online, the cell phone we’ve handed over, and the powerful capabilities of the technology itself.  Or we are intimidated by the technology ourselves and don’t feel comfortable talking to our children about it.
So here’s what you can do as a parent to teach your children about cyberbullying and properly using the technology handed to them:
  • Lay down ground rules for use whether it be the home computer or cellphone and let them know you’ll be monitoring it.   Being a parent isn’t easy.  I know, and we all have heard “You’re invading my privacy!”  But “privacy” in regards to parenting never meant “hands off” in my opinion.  We’ve looked at the emails, social networking accounts, text messaging, etc.  And we’ve talked about our concerns whether it be harm to them or to others.
  • Throw the phrase “it’s just the internet” out in the garbage.  The internet is no less a public place than you physically going out in public.  Our inappropriate actions online have no less of repercussions than they would offline and we should take that notion very seriously.  Just because the venue has changed doesn’t mean anything.    It’s my opinion that this particular mindset in regards to the internet is one of the key reasons people get into so much trouble online and we need to get better at teaching our kids about Netiquette.
  • Learn about the technology.  You don’t have to become an expert or learn programming, but you should learn how to use the tech you are handing to your kids.    We’re not all mechanics (I know I’m not),  but we teach our kids how to drive responsibly.  The same philosophy applies with tech.  If you speed you can hurt someone else, hurt yourself, or end up in trouble with the law.   Guess what can happen if you use technology inappropriately . . . you can hurt someone else, hurt yourself, or end up in trouble with the law.  So take classes, ask a friend to teach you, read books on the subject, set up your own accounts and get hands on experience, so forth and so on.
  • When your kids come to you about being cyberbullied, take it seriously.   You know that phrase we’ve all used as parents, “Just ignore them and they’ll go away.”  Well, the thing about the internet and data storage is it never goes away.  So an embarrassing photo can remain available and resurface over and over and over again.  It should be addressed in an appropriate manner such as speaking to the child’s parents, etc.  Get screenshots or printouts if necessary so you have proof.
The bottom line is that cyberbullying is an issue, and technology can be very harmful to others when used inappropriately.  Just like any tool we use inappropriately.  The internet and the the technology are very beneficial as well and improving lives everyday so we shouldn’t be so quick to blame the technology.  Here are some links to further resources:
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Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • http://digitalcatechesis.ning.com/ Caroline Cerveny, SSJ

    Brad, Thanks for calling attention to this issue.  What is very important in today’s digital world is that we foster and promote Digital Citizenship.  Check out – http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/curriculum/6-8

  • http://catholicyouthministryresources.com Eric Gallagher

    Great reminder!  Our youth are exposed to so much technology that it can happen practically ever hour of the day.  Great article!  Thanks!