Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

An old problem finds a home on new technology: cyber bullying and other internet related harassment seems to be on the rise. What's a parent to do?

I'll start by stating that I'm not a parent. I know that saying so will invalidate my opinion in the eyes of some. Naturally it doesn't stop me from having an opinion.

Not a day goes by that we don't hear about internet related harassment and crimes committed against, and frequently by, children.

There are actually strong arguments as to whether or not the magnitude of the problem as reported in the mainstream media is, in fact, as large as they portray it. Some say that child predation is significantly less than you might come to believe by watching night time news programs. Some say it's worse. Some will tell you that bullying and intimidation has grown by leaps and bounds as the internet has enabled a level of anonymity accessible to all - children included.

I'm not going to argue the numbers one way or the other.

But as someone who was bullied in school I can only shudder at what my life would have been like had that technology been accessible to my tormentors.

And it leads me to ask: where are the parents?

I think that in truth, we've all experienced it to some degree, either as we were growing up, or as we watch the world around us: children can be brutal; particularly to one another. I'm not saying that to be judgmental; in fact I think it's a natural part of growing up and growing into adulthood.

I'm also not saying it's acceptable to allow it to continue.

But I see it almost every day. Questions and comments that are clearly from children and are the result of being intimidated, being harassed, or being bullied. Or worse, the brazen questions and comments from those children who are, or who are trying to be, the bully.

I would normally expect that this is where parents come in - teaching children the difference between right and wrong. And yet it appears that too many simply don't.

"Be the parent."

The single most frustrating reaction is "my child would never do that".

More often than you think, your child would.

I'm not saying that there aren't great and trustworthy kids out there, there absolutely are. In many ways it's unfortunate that they have to come under this kind of suspicion because of "the others". But the fact is you cannot assume your child is one of the trustworthy ones. That assumption is all too often wrong.

I'll be in the audience for a seminar by a local non-profit next month, "Safe Surfing: Protecting Your Kids Online". In reviewing the materials, though, one thing becomes clear: there's one thing that parents can - no, must - do to keep their kids safe:

Get involved.

Stay involved.

Or as I might put it: be the parent.

Yes, you will have to learn about the technologies that your child is exposed to and is using.

Yes, it will make you and your child uncomfortable at times. But these are important lessons to be learned.

Yes, it's work.

It doesn't have to be confrontational; in fact one of the most important things you can do is establish a relationship of trust where both you and your child can be open and honest when discussing these topics.

And no, I have no delusions that this is somehow easy.

But it is necessary.

Rather than duplicate the work of others, I'm going to recommend that if you're a parent you read this article: Internet Safety: How to Protect Your Child from Cyber Bullying from my friends out at Scambusters.org. Seven specific tips that, quite honestly, I couldn't put any better myself.

And finally, if you suspect that your child might be the bully - please don't ignore it.

Be the parent.

Article C3395 - May 25, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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11 Comments
Ron
May 25, 2008 1:52 PM

I too was bullied in school. I am now a parent and grandparent. It seems to me that the same "parents" who have children who bully in the real world are the same "parents" who turn out children who bully in the cyberworld.

Mary
May 26, 2008 4:49 AM

Wow, you pushed a wrong button for me. You've just touched the tip of the iceberg as fas as I'm concerned. These are the same parents who let their kids run around in a restaurant or store with complete disregard for others. The same parents who think it's cute when their little "darling" tortures an animal. Or spray paints a wall, smashes a mailbox, etc. When I was growing up we called these kids JDs (juvenile delinquents.) They, and their parents, were held responsible for their behavior.

Something is wrong with a system that punishes a parent for spanking (not beating) a child, or for punishing a teacher who has to use force to defend him/herself against a knife wielding student. End of rant :-)

Ken B
May 27, 2008 2:48 PM

Unfortunately, sometimes the parents don't want to get involved, just as they don't in "real life" bullying. My 11-year-old son has been the target of bullies (well, one in particular) at school, and the main bully's parents simply don't care. ("Boy will be boys" is their attitude. They're too focused on the new baby to care about their other son.) And, unfortunately, there's not much the school is able to do, since he's never done any of the expellable offenses.

Rami El-Zein
May 27, 2008 4:10 PM

Hi, you have to check out the free filtering options offered by www.opendns.com. Im using it at home to block some site categories and also at the office by blocking sites that waste resources.

Highly recommended and remember, free :)

Leo
May 27, 2008 5:54 PM

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Blocking kind of misses my point. While I agree that it can
be a tool, it's no substitute for responsible parenting.

Leo


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Fred Wortham
May 27, 2008 6:14 PM

From the aforementioned article on scambusters.org (NOT attributed to the author of the article): "While bullying has always been an unfortunate reality..." Well, rape and murder are unfortunate realites, and we don't hesitate to punish those who perpetrate those horrific crimes.

I'm not saying we should send identified bullies to prison with hardened adult criminals (unless the bully, cyber- or otherwise, is an adult) but the more we accept bullying behavior, the more it will continue, and the worse it will get. There will be more tragedies, I promise you, unless we, at the very least, start sending these bullies (again, cyber- or otherwise) to a psychiatrist for a full evaluation. Not a school counselor, or a psychologist, but a true medical doctor that can evaluate a bully's behavior, perform a "psych" exam and recommend treatement. Hey, it just might "save the bully" from a life of criminal violence...

We must start treating bullying as the crime it is - if an adult perpetrated such acts against another adult, in many jurisdictions, that would constitute, at the very least, criminal harassment.

Before you ask, no, I was never bullied in middle school/junior high or high school (In my high school days, I weighed 200 pounds and had about 10 percent body fat - not exactly the classic bullying "target"). But I do see this as a complete travesty of humanity, and of justice. No kid who is bullied, online or at school, "deserves" it, and no one should have to go to school "living in fear". Get serious about it, get after the perpetrators, and it will start to become a manageable problem. Don't (which is more likely), and it will continue, or get worse. Imagine not punishing murderers or armed robbers.

Okay, end of my rant :|

Jug
May 27, 2008 9:06 PM

Who do you contact for nudity pictures being sent to my grand kids on my space? I will not let any of them get on it any more.Please contact me to let me know.

Fred
May 28, 2008 1:29 AM

I'm only 21 so I speak from a kids point of view. But I still say to parents "if you don't understand a technology, don't let your kids have it" Simple, as in the case above, if you don't think you can protect (or monitor) them online, don't let them be online.
You wouldn't let your kids got to a strange town by themselves, so why let them got to a whole world where it is even easier to fall victim.

Leo
May 28, 2008 10:30 AM

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Jug: you'd have to contact myspace customer support.

Leo


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JohnE
June 2, 2008 2:22 AM

Children should NEVER be allowed to be online, unsupervised. Computers should always be located in the family room, never in a child's bedroom. It's not just bullies that are out there, there are plenty of predators who target children, grooming them for sexual abuse, and every child is a potential victim. Remember, these people are as skilled at entrapping kids as double glazing salesmen are at selling their wares, and if you are a parent and you don't supervise your kids online activity, you may never know that they are being set up. Cyberbullying is just the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg.

Leo
June 2, 2008 7:10 PM

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While I agree with your position ("Computers should always
be located in the family room...") I think that the media
has overblown the real risk of things like predators and
child abuduction. I'm not saying that they don't happen -
they do - I'm just skeptical that they're as great a risk as
believing the media might lead us to believe.

Bullying, on the other hand, is a real, common and constant
threat. In my opinion it's the majority of that iceberg
because it affects more children on a daily and ongoing
basis.

Leo


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