The Internet age has led to a different kind of teen bullying called Cyberbullying. A website’s prefix “www” stands for World Wide Web but users should also understand that it means the “Whole World is Watching.” Every online message or post is retrievable regardless of the “delete” or “trash” buttons. Once you hit “send” it’s out there for the world to see.
Cyberbullying is defined as using electronic communication to harass or bully someone. This can be done by e-mail, voicemail, text or Instant Messages, blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace.
Most teenagers are skilled users of all things digital. Their parents, on the other hand, fall behind when it comes to evolving technologies. My recent book, “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” (Free Spirit Publishing 2010) addresses real cases of teenagers in trouble over their online and cell phone activities. Many teens across the country have received consequences at school for their harassment of classmates, teachers and administrators. Suspensions and expulsions have been imposed for harmful messages or sexual content. Some teens have been charged with crimes while others have been sued along with their parents for their online harassment. The purpose in writing TCI is to educate teens about the unintended consequences of irresponsible communications. Teens often learn from the experiences of their peers. The message to teens is to “Think B4 U Click.”
There is also a message to every parent. Like everything in a teen’s life, homelife is key to becoming a respectful, compassionate adult. Parents can prepare their son or daughter early on to recognize the dangers of the Internet and avoid becoming a victim of cyberbullying or a perpetrator. It is never too early to discuss etiquette and ethics with your child. As you know, you can buy toy computers and cell phones for children as young as three years old. That’s when lessons should begin about appropriate use.
Trust between a parent and child is vital to protecting your kids online. A child needs to understand that he or she can go to you if they receive a cruel message. Many teens resist telling their parents when they are targeted by a cyberbully. They are afraid you will take the computer or cell phone away. Although shutting the computer down or confiscating the cell phone is a natural response by many parents, the fact that, in many ways, this is their lifeline and a significant part of their social lives can’t be ignored. Instead of being prohibitive, we need to become proactive regarding the use of electronic communications.
Many of us lag behind our teens when it comes to cyberspace. Their digital skills improve everyday while ours remain stagnant or creep along at a snail’s pace. In order to monitor their online activities we need to “tech-up” and become computer literate. It’s impossible to monitor your child’s Internet usage unless you’re able to navigate the Web.
When your kids are young get online with them and learn together. Know their passwords and online friends. Instruct them about privacy and the danger in giving out personal information. If your child is on Facebook or any social networking site, open your own account [it’s free] and make a friend request to your child. This shouldn’t be a problem if trust and respect exists between you.
Much like drinking and driving contracts* signed between parents and their teenagers, the same can be done regarding the Internet. Your child should understand that they can go to you anytime without fear of being cut off from their friends online or by phone. Too many teens turn to their friends or remain silent when bullying starts. Bullycide is a tragic and avoidable phenomenon. Teens who take their lives out of fear, frustration and loneliness need a place to turn. It should be you who can step in and protect them. No parent should lose a child on account of the digital antics of a few. Our children must and can be protected in this new age. It’s up to the adults in their lives to step up and tech-up.
*See the “Stop Cyberbullying Pledge” on www.wiredsafety.org
In addition to the Wired Safety website, take a look at www.netsmartz.org for safety tips, free Internet safety resources, and videos of real life stories told by teens who have been victims of Internet exploitation.
Thomas A. Jacobs, creator and moderator of Askthejudge.info