My 90 year old stepfather was just recently claiming to my mother that kids didn’t pick on each other back in his day. When she told me about it, we nodded knowingly, smiled, and agreed he has a touch of the old-timer’s. Anyone who is a kid, has been a kid, or has a kid of their own knows that bullying is a big problem, at home, at school and on the playground. But with the advent of the internet, it’s moved into an entirely different arena- online, and taken a new name- cyber-bullying.
This can take on all kinds of forms- from teasing each other in chat rooms and sending insulting text messages all the way to setting up threatening websites and posting compromising photos without the subject’s knowledge. The psychological damage this can cause is way beyond the bumps and bruises usually incurred from fighting, because these battles are not confined to the two (or few) kids involved, it’s on the internet for everyone to see.
The old adage “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” has not really made the transition smoothly to this digital age. What about 1,000 text messages? Naked photos? A web page about your entire private life? A transcript of what you thought was a private, personal chat posted online for everyone to see? Those being made public against someone’s will can really be hurtful!
What makes cyber-bullying so difficult for parents, is that their kids are often so embarrassed and ashamed by what’s happened, they refuse to speak about it, and, since there is no physical evidence of the bullying, parents are left unaware. For parents who wish to delve a little deeper into their kids’ activities online, there is software available to monitor their child’s computer for evidence of such activity.
“PC Pandora 6.0 lets parents know exactly what their young surfers are doing online and see first-hand how they are interacting with others,” explains Pandora Corp. co-founder Jamie Leasure. “If their child is being bullied, they will have records and information they can use to help put an end the situation.” Other similar options include CyberBully Alert, Securus, and NetBus Spector Pro.
Although all of these options are not really solutions… They’re just tools to alert you to the problem. If you’re already aware there’s a problem with your kid being cyber-bullied, it’s too late to prevent the problem, you’re on mop-up duty.
Your best bet is to have an open dialog with your kids and to be able to talk with them when these situations occur and help them deal with bullies. Teach them not to put inappropriate material online. Keep your kids’ computer in an common area where you can monitor their online usage if you’re worried about what’s going on, and check in with their mobile phone usage too.
The internet is a huge, sometimes scary place, but one where you and your kids should feel safe conducting your daily business. Talk with your kids and make sure that they feel safe in their digital domain, and if they don’t, check some of these resources for more help: