The days of the schoolyard bully who set out to take your lunch money or shove you in a locker seem like a dream to kids today. Today's kids face bullies who utilize technology to take schoolyard antagonism to a whole new and oftentimes dangerous level.
Cyber bullying is the use of technology and information by a minor to torment, threaten, harass, embarrass and otherwise humiliate another child. The Internet, social networking sites, cell phones and other digital and interactive technologies are used to take the bully's message to a greater audience than ever before, giving them more power to leave their victims humiliated on a global scale.
"It is much easier to bully online than in person," says Dr. Mirjam Quinn, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Argosy University, Chicago. "It is easier to reach a large audience online, there is less, if any, adult supervision governing online behavior and the Internet provides a - sometimes false - sense of anonymity that may lead individuals to behave more aggressively than they would in real life. It is also easier to dehumanize a victim online, since the bully doesn't see, thus can ignore, the victim's immediate emotional reaction."
"Victims who experience cyber bullying reveal that they were afraid or embarrassed to go to school. In addition, research has revealed a link between cyber bullying and low self-esteem, family problems, academic problems, school violence and delinquent behavior. Cyber-bullied youth also report having suicidal thoughts, and there have been a number of examples in the United States where youth who were victimized ended up taking their own lives," says Eric Kurt, academic director of the Web Design & Interactive Media program at The Art Institute of Indianapolis.
How do your protect your kids? Set appropriate boundaries and monitor their activity.
"The Internet really isn't as anonymous as it seems - it is very much real life," says Quinn. "Your parenting rules in real life can and should very much inform the decisions you make about parenting rules regarding cell phone and Internet use."
"It is important that you have access to the technology your child uses the most," says Kurt. If your child has a cell phone, you should communicate that you can and will monitor the text messages that are received and sent. "It's not a matter of privacy invasion, but of being a parent active in the life of your child," says Kurt.
"Parents should look at and set privacy settings on the sites their children are using. They should also have a list of user accounts that a child has created on the Web, along with the passwords," says Kurt.
Both Kurt and Quinn encourage parents to talk to their kids about appropriate behavior online. Teach them to never post something on the Internet or send a text message that they wouldn't say to a parent or family member. "Once you send a message or an image out into the world via the Internet or text message, you have no control over where it goes and who will receive it," says Kurt. "Assume that anything posted can, and often will, be made public. If you don't post anything disrespectful, irresponsible or vulgar, then you don't have to worry about who is viewing it."
"If bullying ever crosses the line into intimidation or sexual harassment, or affects your child's ability to feel safe when she is around the bully, then the other child's parents, the school, community leaders and (depending on the severity of the situation) the police should be contacted immediately. Your child may initially become angry with you for 'overreacting,' but you are doing the right thing by showing him that you will take care of him and keep him safe no matter what," says Quinn.