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Posted on Thu, Dec 20, 2012 : 11 a.m.

Advances in technology mean families need to have conversations about cyberbullying

By Kristin Judge

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Courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Bullying is not a new phenomenon. I remember sadly my middle school years and seeing two of my classmates continually harassed. When discussing this topic in public, the reaction from some has been, “Kids will be kids, and bullying is a part of growing up.”

Today, cyberbullying has taken the old-fashioned teasing to a whole new level. In some way, it may be that the ability to tease without being face-to-face or even identified makes it easier. Do you find yourself more willing to write a heated email than have a heated conversation in person? Do you ever make a nasty comment on a blog under an anonymous name that you would never say if your name was attached?

When I served as an elected official, I felt firsthand the effects of anonymous bloggers making comments on local news websites. Although there are standards and “offensive” material is taken down, comments could be hurtful. Not one of my critics was willing to put his or her name on their comments or meet with me to discuss concerns when offered the chance.

As an adult, I was able to handle the comments and take them for what they were. Unfortunately, our youth may not be able to withstand the criticism they endure online.

It is important to realize that bullying has reached new levels with technology in the hands of kids and adults. It has just gotten easier to bully with a phone in almost every teen hand linked to photos, texts and social media. The number of people a bullying comment can reach in a matter of seconds is staggering. Once a picture or comment is online, getting it back can be impossible. The anonymity people feel behind the keyboard also makes it easier to bully others.

Doing a search on suicides linked to cyberbullying turns up too many sad stories of young people who felt they could not match the power of the Internet and gain control of the teasing. Popular celebrities have been speaking out on the issue, and the media is making an effort to spread the message. We all need to do our part!

As my last column stated, it does take a village to educate and raise awareness about online safety. It takes even more of an effort to find out about cyberbullying and intervene to keep our families safe. Please take time to check out the resources below and have a conversation with those you love.

Today’s Quick Tips:

(These tips come from the MSISAC.org newsletter archive)

• Talk to your child about cyber bullying. Make sure you keep an open dialogue so he/she feels comfortable coming to you with any issues.

• Be familiar with your child's interactions with friends and others. While cyber bullying can be caused by a random person (and thus difficult to prepare for), trouble with friends and others in your child's social circle can also lead to cyber bullying.

• Teach your child not to respond to cyber bullies. Bullies enjoy the response; by not responding, that may encourage them to move on.

• Limit the amount of information your child shares online. Bullies can use multiple methods of communication to taunt or harass; by limiting your child's exposure, you make it easier to limit a bully's access. This may also limit the chance of a random cyber-bullying incident.

• If the bullying is a problem, consider closing down the particular point of access, if possible. Email, instant message accounts and even some phone companies allow you to block specific user names or phone numbers. Most companies will even let you change cell phone numbers, email addresses and instant message accounts if needed.

• If your children are being harassed or threatened, report the activity. Many schools have instituted bullying programs, so school officials may have established policies for handling incidents. If necessary, contact your local law enforcement — your local police department or FBI branch are good starting points.

Resources

US-CERT

http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/ST06-005.html

StaySafeOnline.org

http://www.staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/for-parents/cyberbullying-and-harassment

Facebook Safety Page

http://www.facebook.com/safety

Cyberbullying Research Center

Check out the School Climate 2.0 book webpage and go to “Downloads” for games, family contracts and a tracking form that can be useful tools. http://www.cyberbullying.us/

To get more great information about staying safe online, including access to free monthly newsletters, webcasts and more, visit the Center for Internet Security at www.cisecurity.org. Stay tuned for our next chat!

Kristin Judge is the executive director of the Trusted Purchasing Alliance, a division of the Center for Internet Security. She can be reached at kristin.judge@cisecurity.org.