Do you know what your child or teen is doing online? Do you know who he receives e-mail from; who she exchanges instant messages with; or what a "social network" account is and which such site is "the latest"?
Parents need to know what their kids are doing in cyberspace. The best way to find out is to ask. Unfortunately, children carefully keep cyberbullying from their parents, sometimes until it is too late.
Children as young as nine years old are finding themselves harassed via blogs, Web sites, text messaging and instant messaging. And, many retaliate by becoming cyberbullies themselves. Talk to your children and even your older teens about safe Internet practices. Talk to them about cyberbulling to make sure that they are not a victim of cyberbullying -- or the actual cyberbully.
Teaching kids how to respond to and when to ignore cyberbullying is crucial. Like its adult-version counterparts -- cyberstalking and harassment -- different motives and kinds of harassment require different responses. Some should be simply ignored and the sender blocked. Others should be reported to parents and teachers. And, in certain instances, the police have to get involved.
This becomes a serious problem when children are reluctant to get adults involved. Fearing more harassment if they do, they often try to handle it themselves. But they have very little guidance on how to do that safely. And if they wait too long to get adult help, they may find themselves at physical risk.
In cases where physical risk isn't an issue, victims too often find themselves ignored. They may be advised to turn the other cheek or lectured on “sticks and stones” not breaking bones and how words will never hurt them. But words can hurt them. Abuse does not have to be physical. Emotional scars can run very deep as well.
So what can be done?
Luckily, as with all technology abuses, there are technological solutions as well.
Offending cyberbullies can have their screen name blocked. (This only blocks that one screen name, however, not the entire account. And in the case of a free Web mail account, can be easily discarded in favor of a new account and screen name.) And, with very few exceptions, cyberbullies can be identified by the trail left in cyberspace.
In addition, monitoring software applications can gather and save evidence in a form law enforcement agencies and lawyers need. There are also easy ways of blocking communications from everyone other than trusted friends of the kids. There are also ways to easily search for references about anyone online to spot cyberbullying public posts before they become a problem (i.e. Google).
Helping them with their emotional pain is harder, though. It’s easy from a distance to tell the victims of a hate campaign to ignore it. It’s much harder to do. The pain requires gentleness and understanding. The victim needs us to listen and to try and understand. We can't belittle it. We need to deal with their fear, embarrassment and humiliation.
But you should not play into the hands of the cyberbully by overreacting.