Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cyberbullying Advice for Parents from InternetSafety.com & the Cyberbullying Research Center

/PRNewswire/ -- Cyberbullying, the practice of harassing another individual through digital channels such as email, instant/text messaging, and social networking websites, affects roughly one in five children. At times it has led to tragic results such as the recent suicide of Australian teenager Chanelle Rae, who took her own life after nasty messages were circulated online about her appearance. The problem has received national attention in the U.S. as well with a series of highly publicized incidents, including the recent introduction of the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act named after a 13-year-old who committed suicide in 2006 after an online harassment campaign initiated by a friend's mother.

According to Sameer Hinduja, InternetSafety.com's cyberbullying expert and co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying ups the ante on the age-old practice of bullying in several ways. First, victims often do not know who the bully is or why they are being targeted. The cyberbully can cloak his or her identity behind a computer or cell phone using anonymous email addresses or pseudonymous screen names. Second, the hurtful actions of a cyberbully are viral, enabling an entire school to be involved in a cyber-attack or at least find out about the incident with a few keystrokes. This can add immeasurably to the victim's trauma.

Signs that a child is being cyberbullied include a marked change in computer habits such as less frequent computer use, nervousness when a new e-mail or instant message arrives, constant looking over his or her shoulder when at the computer, and anger or depression either at or away from the machine.

To deal with cyberbullying, InternetSafety.com and Hinduja recommend strategies such as:

-- Working together with the child to arrive at a mutually agreeable
course of action, including soliciting input from the child for
resolving the situation.
-- When necessary, explaining the importance of scheduling a meeting with
school administrators (or a trusted teacher) to discuss the matter.
-- Refraining from immediately banning access to instant messaging,
e-mail, social networking Web sites, or the Internet in general.
Hinduja warns that this strategy neither addresses the underlying
interpersonal conflict nor eliminates current or future instances of
cyberbullying victimization. It will also likely close off a candid
line of communication and promote overt defiance of the ban for
children accustomed to frequent online access.
-- Paying even greater attention to victimized children's Internet and
cell phone activities.
-- Considering installing parental control filtering software and/or an
online tracking program like Safe Eyes (http://www.safeeyes.com/) to
block emails from known cyberbullies, monitor and record online chat
sessions, or in extreme cases block IM, email or social networking
sites completely. Over 70% of teens surveyed by the National Crime
Prevention Council reported that being able to block cyberbullies was
the most effective method of prevention.

"If you're using filtering and blocking software, tell your children about it and explain why you have chosen to take that step," Hinduja said. "Open communication is key to maintaining the level of trust that children need to confide in their parents about problems they are having--online or offline."

"While cyberbullying rarely ends in suicide, these extreme cases demonstrate just how harmful the practice can be," said Joe Stradinger, Chief Evangelist for InternetSafety.com. "The Internet and other new communication methods have made bullying much more potent and troublesome, and parents need to be vigilant to protect their children from serious emotional harm."

For more on cyberbullying, visit the InternetSafety.com blog at http://blog.internetsafety.com/ and the Cyberbullying Research Center blog at http://blog.cyberbullying.us/

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