While it may seem that the internet has created more options for connection, it's also created more options for anonymity and the illusion of safety. According to DoSomething.org, "81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person". And how could they not? It just takes watching one episode of Catfish on MTV to realize that daily people are pretending to be someone they're not and are able to slide under the radar while harassing, manipulating, and bullying others online.
Cyberbullying can take many forms including, but not limited to: cruel or embarrassing rumors to threats, harrassment, or stalking. Obviously, anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying, but children and teens are the most vulnerable. So with children growing up in a world where the internet is part of their daily lives, how do we protect them? Here are some tips from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team:
- Teach children good online habits - Explain the risks of technology, and teach children how to be responsible online. Reduce their risk of becoming cyberbullies by setting up guidelines for and monitoring their use of the internet and other electronic media (cell phones, PDAs, etc).
- Keep lines of communication open - Regularly talk to your children about their online activities so they feel comfortable telling you if they're being victimized.
- Watch for warning signs - If you notice changes in your child's behavior, try to identify the cause as soon as possible. If cyberbullying is involved, acting early can limit the damage.
- Limit availability of peronal information - Limiting the number of people who have access to contact information or details about interests, habits, or employment reduces exposure to bullies that you or your child do not know. This may limit the risk of becomign a victim and may make it easier to identify the bully if you or your child are victimized.
- Avoid escalating the situation - Responding with hostility is likely to provoke a bully and escalate the situation. Depending on the circumstances, consider ignoring the issue. Often, bullies thrive on the reaction of their victims. Other options include subtle actions. For example, you may be able to block the messages on social networking sites or stop unwanted emails by changing the email address. If you continue to get messages at the new email address, you may have a stronger case for legal action.
- Document the activity - Keep a record of any online activity (emails, web pages, instant messages, etc.), including relevant dates and times. In addition to archiving an electronic versioni, consider printing a copy.
- Report cyberbullying to the appropriate authorities - If you or your child are being harrassed or threatened, report the activity. Many schools have instituted bullying programs, so school officials may have established policies for dealing with activity that involves students. If necessary, contatct your local law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies have different policies, but your local police department or FBI branch are good starting points. Unfortunately, there is a distinction between free speech and punishable offencses, but the legal implications should be decided by the law enforcement officials and the prosecutors.
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