More and more kids are being bullied in their own homes under their parent’s very noses. It’s called cyberbullying and it’s a troublesome trend involving the use of cell phones, Facebook, and other social networking sites that allow teens to connect and bully others.
Behaviour specialist Patti Reiner says conflicts that may begin with a text or facebook post are spilling over into school hallways the next day. They occur when students send cruel, vicious and sometimes threatening messages to others, circulate unflattering photos taken with a cell phone, or post photos to be rated by others. In some cases, an entire website dedicated to outing a student as gay or promiscuous is created.
“Anyone can post anything and once it’s out there, it’s there,” Reiner said. “A student may be asked to take the website down but by the time that happens, the damage is done and the site has been downloaded who knows how many times?”
Reiner says student are using MSN, Facebook and other social networking sites to say things they would never feel comfortable saying in person. Sometimes what they write is petty gossip. Other times it is hateful, degrading or even criminal.
“They will say things they would never say face to face. Then the next day they’ll meet in the hallway and fight because of what was said on MSN the night before,” Reiner said.
A poll released by the Canadian Teachers Federation recently says more than one-third of Canadians know of a child who has been bullied online in the last year and one in five Canadians were aware of a teacher who was cyberbullied.
James Pengilly is a middle school counsellor who deals frequently with cyberbullying.
“It is an emerging problem that we are just going to have to learn to manage,” he said. “It isn’t something the school is actively looking for, but we will certainly deal with it if it becomes apparent to us or if bullying transfers from being on the internet to being in the school environment.”
RCMP School Liaison Officer Cheryl McKinnon says the kids who bully others online tend to be the ones whose parents aren’t around and don’t know who their child’s friends are.
“My biggest fear is that children will be bullied, not articulate it to anyone and then no one will know about it until it is too late or the child’s self-esteem is so low that it is manifesting itself in drug or alcohol use,” she said.
What Can Parents Do?
Internet educators agree the key to protecting children from internet dangers including cyberbullying begins with education and open communication. It means setting boundaries, establishing rules and monitoring a child’s internet use and internet friends the same way any responsible parent would monitor their child’s offline friends and activities.
“Talk to your kids about the fact that the dangers are real and tell them exactly what could happen to them if they post too much information about themselves,” Pengilly. “Be blunt. Tell them they could be abducted or sexually assaulted.”
Educators and law enforcement agencies recommend computers be located in a common location where the screen can be easily viewed by passing parents. They urge parents to check the computer’s history to see which sites have been visited and to set rules for its use, such as no instant messaging during homework or after a set time each night.
Parents and their children should discuss what is, and is not, appropriate such as using sexually explicit, foul or hateful language when online. Flames – strongly worded and sometimes obscene messages sent to public forums and chat rooms –should be discussed and discouraged.
Additional information on internet safety, including internet pledge forms, is available at www.bewebaware.ca and www.netsmartz.org.
What to Do if You’re Being Bullied Online
Don’t reply to messages from cyberbullies. Bullies feed off the misery of others and enjoy hearing they’ve gotten someone upset or worried. Resist the temptation to respond and you will deny them that pleasure.
Tell someone: Tell an adult you know and trust that you are being bullied and remember you did nothing to deserve this treatment.
Cut them off: Inform your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or cell phone/pager service provider. A list of Canadian service providers and their contact information is located in the “Related Resources” page on www.cyberbullying.ca.
Keep the evidence: Keep all posts and messages involving bullying as evidence you can present to the police, your ISP provider, and your phone company.
And finally, if your safety is in question inform your local police.
* Article provide courtesy of Venture Academy for Troubled Teens
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