In today’s internet-age of social media and cell phones, your kids are constantly surrounded by technology. While you may be prepared to protect your children from the potential dangers that lurk on the net, children of all ages are vulnerable to bullying as they use the Web. Opportunities for bullying spring up through instant messaging, in chat rooms, and on social networking sites like Facebook. If your child is bullied by someone she met through a chat room or gaming site, she may not even know who the bully is and may be reluctant to tell you about a problem for fear of having the computer taken away. Here’s how you can identify and deal with cyber bullies:
Signs your child might be bullied online:
- Your child stops using the computer without explanation
- Your child appears nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message or email
- Your child is uneasy about going out or going to school
- Your child appears angry or depressed after using the computer
- Your child is secretive about what he does on the computer
- Your child is abnormally withdrawn from friends and family
The first step to keeping your child’s Web time bully free is to make sure your family computer is a safe space. Is your child more tech-savvy than you? It will be easier help her deal with problems online if you have a better understanding of Internet usage, terminology, and the “text speak” kids use. Here are some other simple ways to keep your child safe on the Web:
- Let your child know you’re paying attention to her Web usage. Keep the family computer somewhere out in the open. Absolutely keep Webcams out of your child’s bedroom.
- Talk to your child about the Web sites she visits. Keep a log of the Web sites, user names, and passwords she uses (if applicable).
- Make sure your child doesn’t give out any personal information in chat rooms, on social networking sites, or personal Web pages.
- Use parental controls to block Web sites that aren’t kid-friendly. Set up firewalls to block viruses.
- Tell your child to delete emails and close instant-message boxes from people she doesn’t know. If the person continues to email or message, help your child block the account.
While it may be harder to identify a cyber bully than a “real life” bully, chat room names, email addresses, and instant-messenger accounts can be changed at the drop of a hat. Talk to your child about what he does on the Web and consider these steps to build a cyber-bully-proof plan:
- Encourage your child to ignore cyber bullies, even if what they are saying isn’t true. Remember, ignoring a cyber bully is as easy as deleting an email or closing an instant-messenger window.
- Block the email addresses and instant-messenger accounts of bullies. Even if your child hasn’t met his bully “in real life,” you don’t need personal details to filter out harassing emails.
- If the bullying takes place in a chat room or on a forum, moderators for the site can be notified and the bully’s account can be suspended. Instant messenger services also have ‘report abuse’ options.
- If your child knows his bully “in real life,” you might want to arrange a meeting between children and parents to work out the problem in person.
If your child has a repeat problem or is threatened by a bully, be sure to save a copy of the exchange with the date and time. Contact your Internet service provider (ISP) — they may be able to track down the bully. If your child is being harassed by someone who seems to know a lot of information about her, it may be necessary to contact the police.