Protect Your Kids from Cyberbullies

In 2003, Ryan Halligan thought he'd made a friend with a pretty and popular girl through AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and confided with her personal embarrassing stories. But later on, he learned that the girl and her friends thought it would be funny to have Ryan think the girl liked him in order to coax from him more embarrassing subjects, material which was eventually shared with her friends. In October, Ryan hanged himself in the family bathroom.

Ryan's story is not uncommon. Both adults and children are increasingly spending a great deal of time online via smart phones, tablets and home computers for work, school, as well as enjoyment. But the existence of cyberbullying can also present a threat to their emotional and social wellbeing. This is especially true for teenagers, like Ryan, who are the most vulnerable.

Social networking has magnified the effects of online bullying. With the new school year just a few weeks away, it is important to talk with your kids about the dangers of cyberbullying and to recognize that cyberbullying is not simply 'kids being kids' but rather a real danger with extreme consequences for both the bullies, the bullied and parents.

Bullies use many methods to attack their victims including:

  • Harassment - Repeatedly sending threats or other offensive material to one or more victims is harassment. This may involve cyberstalking where the bully locates email accounts, home addresses and phone numbers to threaten or harass victims.
  • Flaming - Flaming is the act of taunting the victim to respond. This is often done publicly to shame the victim for cowardice if they fail to respond or further mock them if they do.
  • Exclusion - Exclusion is the act of blocking or cutting someone out of a social group. For many teens, this act can be very traumatic because they are socially fixated on recognition from peers and "fitting in". Other types of harassment may spring out of exclusion such as taunting the target via rude text messages and emails.
  • Impersonation (a.a. Masquerading) - Bullies often use false or misleading online identities to impersonate their victim and post unpopular comments or hurtful information on message boards and social networks. They may use fake email addresses or user accounts to send messages after a previous account is blocked. This may lead to the target being ostracized or victimized with other forms of bullying such as flaming and exclusion.
  • Outing - Outing involves the bully publishing personal or private details about the victim publicly or within a social circle. This can be anything from a personal secret to explicit photographs. Bullies may even pose as a love interest in order to provoke the victim into sharing embarrassing personal information, as in Ryan's case. Once shared online, information can spread quickly throughout the teen's school and social circle.

There are many steps parents can take to help their child overcome cyberbullying.

  • Identify the Problems - Identifying cyberbullying can be particularly difficult with teens who may be more tech savvy than their parents and more reluctant to share the details of their social life. Talk to your kids about their online activities and what to do if they are bullied online. Also, look out for warning signs such as unwillingness to discuss online activities, nervousness, sleeping difficulties, weight change and withdrawing from school or social interests.
  • Ignore the Bully - Block and avoid engaging directly with the bully to stop the behavior. Someone engaged in online bullying is unlikely to be swayed by reason. Cyberbullies crave a response to taunts and insults. Teach your kids that responding in any way will open the floodgates for additional bullying. In some cases, ignoring the behavior may cut things off before they get worse.
  • Save Evidence - Saving evidence of abuse and bullying will help you report the issue to the necessary parties. Keep emails, images and chat records. Take screenshots of things posted online so the bully cannot delete them in an effort to cover his or her tracks.
  • Report the Bullying to Parents/Guardians - If the perpetrator is a minor, you may try reaching out to his or her parent or guardian to intervene in the matter. Many parents are surprised to learn that their children are bullying and will help intervene.
  • Report the Bullying to Online Service Providers - In many cases, the terms of service prohibit harassment and the bully may be banned from the site or blocked by his or her Internet service provider.
  • Report the Bullying to the School - If the bully attends your child's school, raise the subject with an administrator or counselor. Some schools have guidelines for dealing with cyberbullies and preventing escalation.
  • Report the Bullying to the Police - While cyberbullying is relatively new and the law has not always been quick to respond, some localities have established laws to penalize cyberbullies. Threats of violence and the posting or pornographic images, particularly those involving minors, are criminal and should be immediately reported to the authorities. In California, anti-bullying (cyberbullying included) laws and policies includes contact information and procedures for students, families, and staff to report incidents of bullying as well as a process for anonymously submitting information to prevent retaliation. The law also requires schools to report such kinds of behavior in a timely manner to a designated official. For more information about California's policies regarding bullying, follow this link.

All of us at Glew & Kim want your children to be safe from all sorts of danger. If you feel your children are being abused by cyberbullies, give us a call at 866-416-2161 for a free case review.

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