Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can definitely hurt just as bad, if not worse than some physical altercations. Although we have access to the greatest bank of information ever compiled, we also live in an era where we can say whatever we want to whoever we want under the thick veil of anonymity.
Computers, tablets and predominately cell phones have become the medium by which kids target and are targeting in a multitude of disturbing ways. In fact, according to Dosomething.org, 41 percent of children have been bullied online, and an alarming number have had it happen more than once. Even more startling is the fact that 80 percent of children have been witness to cyberbullying. Although it’s impossible to track how many of this 80 percent did something about it, it’s safe to say that most of them didn’t do much. This leaves parents and leaders responsible to step up and stop this devastating trend. It’s time to teach our kids how to navigate the perils of the online world.
The Dangers of Strangers, Bullies
According to Lifelock, it isn’t just cyberbullies targeting our children. Youth is the fastest growing demographic for identity theft and other online crimes as well. The Internet can be nearly impossible to patrol, and the more unsafe-surfing is done, the more vulnerable children end up being. That doesn’t mean you should stand over your kid’s shoulder the entire time they’re surfing online. It just means that creating a dialog about the dangers of the Internet needs to be on the forefront of your parenting roster when they reach browsing age. A survey by Knowledge Masters found that less than half of parents monitor the sites their children look up. Kids tend to know this and end up treating the Internet like a limitless playground.
Leading By Example
Parents can play the role of the enforcer all they want, but leading by example is just as important. If you find yourself tempted to leave a mean anonymous comment on a blog, or shoot down a stranger for saying something you disagree with online think to yourself whether you would say that to the person in real life. If the answer is no, then don’t. The nature of online communication causes what John Suler, author of The Psychology of Cyberspace, calls disassociative anonymity. This means that you can say whatever you want online without repercussions you can get the same power high many achieve by putting others down, but without having to deal with the nitty-gritty of the effect it has on the other human.
Alleviating the Aftermath
Teaching kids and teens to deflect attacks with humor or strength of character is an important tactic, as is simply ignoring the bully. Although there is no one course of action to take that prevents or softens the blow of a cyberbully, parents can talk to their kids about the importance of character and matching their actions to the character they want to be. The most important things to remember while using the Internet are:
- Be respectful: Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want said to you
- Don’t victimize or generally be mean (if they don’t know what being mean means, you’ve got a whole different book of problems to deal with)
- If you see something, say something
- Stand up for yourself without being a jerk
- Never reveal any personal information online: Assume that the whole school is watching you online that’s a good rule of thumb for monitoring behavior
- Using the Internet is a privilege; it isn’t a birthright, so don’t treat it as such!