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.
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:
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.
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