If you have a teen entering middle or high school for the first time, you are probably concerned about the possiblility of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying, for those unaware, is any form of hurtful or embarrassing harassment of another person over the Internet. This issue should not be taken lightly, as Yahoo! Associated Content, The New York Times, and many others have reported, cyber bullying has been the known cause of several suicides among teens and preteens in America. Thankfully, these tragedies never need to occur to your family as long as you remain aware of the issue and take measures to protect your children. Today we discuss several strategies to prevent cyber bullying from harming your children.
Install an Internet Filter
Your first line of defense against cyber bullying is to shield your home from troublesome websites and chat services that allow this kind of abuse to take place. Such sites include social networking portals like Facebook and Myspace, and instant messaging services such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, and MSN messenger. The pressure to join these networks can be huge, especially since many of your kids’ friends are probably online, and simply telling them not to go on may not always be effective.
Instead of relying on the honor system, enforce your cyber rules with an Internet filter. Software such as Net Nanny can block both specific websites and broad categories of online content, allowing you to control your child’s entire online experience as you see fit. By restricting access to the places online where bullying takes place, you can protect your child from falling victim to it.
Limit Time Spent Online
If you really don’t want your children to get involved in the arguments and drama that can turn into bullying, you should make an effort to seriously curtail the time they are allowed to spend on the computer for pleasure each day. Research shows that teenagers love the Internet, and will spend great deals of time in front of the keyboard if allowed. In fact, CrunchGear recently reported that the average teen spends 31 hours/wk on the Internet.
Not only does such behavior increase the risk that they will become involved in cyber bullying, it is also arguably an unhealthy amount of time. Thirty-one hours represents more than a full day eech week online which is time that could be spent studying, practicing a sport or hobby, or partaking in family activities. To these important ends, set a limit in your home for the amount of time the Internet can be used, and stick to it.
Cancel Cell Phone Data Packages
The computer isn’t the only way children and teenagers can access the Internet — many smart phones come with special applications for Facebook and chat, as well as fully-functioning web browsers. Using these apps, anyone can sign up, customize, and use any social network of their choice, just as they would on a computer. Worse yet, a phone is something most teens and preteens always carry with them, which increases the amount of time they can spend online using such networks– without your supervision.
Of course, these programs need Internet access to work at all, which is why you might consider canceling the data plan on your kids’ phones and preventing their devices from going online. Not having Internet access on their phones will also keep your kids more focused on classwork in school, because they won’t have the distraction of a buzzing Facebook alert in their pockets every 15 minutes. Data plans are an expensive add-on as it is, and disabling it on your kids’ phones can save you real money every month in addition to keeping them safe. The New York Times points out that, in most cases, mobile phones are paid for by parents and is therefore a privilege, not a right, and you have every right to restrict what they may and may not use it for.
Monitor Social Network Pages
Reports of cyber bullying show that the majority of it takes place on social networks, especially Facebook. In October of 2010, 7-year-old Kathleen Edward of Trenton, New Jersey was dying of the brain disorder Huntington’s Disease, when her condition made her the victim of Facebook-born cyber bullying. Fox News reports that neighbors of the family created malicious photographs of Kathleen in the arms of the grim reaper, and with a skull and crossbones in front of her, and posted them on Facebook in the months leading up to her death.
This sadistic tale illustrates why it is so important for parents who allow their children to participate in social networking to keep an eye on their pages. Anything from an abusive comment, to a derogatory image can be posted to a person’s wall, and it is important to be aware of how others are treating your child in the online world so that you can catch problems before they get out of control.
Talk To The School
Unfortunately, you can put safety measures in place to protect your children within your home, but you can’t always control their online experiences at school. As a parent, you have a right to know what your children are allowed to do at the library or computer lab machines that you may not approve of at home. Ask about security software — is there any installed, and what sorts of websites are blocked?
If you are dissatisfied with the level of protection your child’s school provides, consider calling a parents meeting and talking over your concerns with other mothers and fathers. If enough parents agree that sites like Facebook ought to be blocked, you can petition the school to enforce your wishes.
Talk To Your Children
For all the good Internet filtering and monitoring can do, nothing beats talking to your children about the risks you are concerned about. If they are old enough to handle it, explain to them that cyber bullying is a real problem that has caused some teenagers to fight, hurt others, and even commit suicide before. Talk to them about their social networking habits and find out if they use any. It is important to let them know that you’re not trying to control them, only looking out for their best interest.
Of course, this sort of approach won’t prevent cyber bullying from taking place, but it can help open a line of communication about the subject between the two of you. This way, if an incident occurs in the future, you will have an easier time discussing it and getting through it in a healthy and beneficial way.