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A recent New York Times article on cyberbullying is chilling, especially if your kid spends a lot of time online or texting. It gives real-life examples of kids who have been cyberbullied, from a boy whose identity was stolen on Facebook to a girl who was ridiculed about her disability online. Parents, who probably dealt with playground bullying when they were kids but nothing technology-related, often feel unprepared to deal with these types of situations.
“We tell parents, be aware of what your kids are doing on the computer and the cell phone,” says Caroline Knorr, the parenting editor at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping kids and families manage media and technology. She gave us some tips to help prevent cyberbullying and advice on what to do if it happens to your child.
Be on your kid's side and communicate with him openly. “A lot of parents are not involved,” Knorr says. Some parents set up a Google Alert for their child’s name, so they're notified when their name pops up online. But you're likely to get the same information -- even more, in fact -- by simply talking with your child.
Make sure your kid has someone else she can talk to (an adult family friend, a school counselor) if she needs to. You're the parent, so you might not always get full disclosure.
Get involved with social media yourself, or at least research what the sites are all about. “I don’t think parents understand Facebook well," says Knorr. "They think if their kid is in a photo that somebody posted, you can just have it taken down. But if it doesn’t violate Facebook’s terms of agreement, they don't have to take the picture down.”
Explain to your kid that that what happens in cyberspace is usually permanent. “Kids don’t get that anytime they send a text, it can be forwarded in an instant," says Knorr. "Your kid might think, 'I sent this naked photo to my boyfriend,' but then he sends it to everybody."
Teach her not to put it all out there. She doesn't need to tell her Facebook friends about her every move. "Facebook is really a social networking tool for grown-ups," says Knorr. "Now this very sophisticated tool is in the hands of kids -- and kids aren't fully developmentally capable of impulse control."
Instill etiquette rules, too. “Some schools are beginning to enact a digital citizenship role, creating rules,” she says. “It’s about not just posting mean pictures of your friends and asking permission before posting a photo."
Preserve the evidence. If your kid has been targeted, take a screenshot of the offending material in case the bully takes it down (It's as easy as pressing the Print Screen button on a PC and then pasting the image in an email or document).
Be prepared for laughter or resistance. The parents of the cyberbully might not take the situation as seriously as you do. They may even deny it.
Meet the other kid's parents in a public place. Don’t address the issue over e-mail. If it becomes a big conflict, bring along a neutral third party to mediate.
Remember there are two sides to every story. Your kid isn't perfect; he may have had a role in escalating the situation. Don't immediately dismiss the idea if the other parent brings it up.
If you think a crime has been committed, go to police.
Have you had to deal with cyberbullying -- what did you do? Chime in below!