Mom and Dad, wake up: If you assume your child is using that fancy home computer to stimulate his brain, think again. The hottest new trend has kids using those keyboards to send vile, hateful and highly slanderous messages about their peers through the Internet. Once confined to playgrounds, bullying has hit cyberspace, cell phones and pagers, and it's both serious and sophisticated. So how do you protect your child from cyberbullying?
The first step is for parents to be aware of just how prevalent cyberbullying is these days. Where we once thought we just had to protect children from adult predators using the Internet, we now need to shield kids from one another.
Cyberbullying is most common around the middle school years, but is making its way into the younger set. Kids now a days are electronically savvy, but make no mistake: the behavior is all about intentionally causing another pain (bullying), and parents must be far more vigilante. The two biggest mistakes adults make is not taking children's complaints seriously, and allowing bullying in the first place.
There are some specific ways to protect kids from bullying both in cyberspace and on the playground. Parents today need a closer "electronic leash" on their kids and need to be more tuned into the cyberspace trend. This isn't about being controlling-this is good parenting. And the good news is that a recent study found that teaching children about unsafe online behavior and cyberbullying can actually reduce the impact.
Parents do make a difference! So here are solutions to start educating both you and your child about cyberbullying or if your child is cyberbullied.
1. Hold "the talk." If your child isn't talking about cyberbullying, don't assume he hasn't been affected. Start the discussion: "What have you heard about...?" "What are other kids saying...?" Let your child know you're aware of this new trend and you are on the alert and are monitoring your computer.
2. State your values. Never assume your child understands why cyberbullying is cruel and wrong. Take time to explain: "In this house we believe in kindness. I expect you to be kind." Be clear on your values.
3. Set clear "electronic" rules. "Never put anything on a cell phone, I-Message, website, email or pager that is hurtful." "Never send anything you wouldn't want said about you." Research at the University of Maryland College of Education also found it helpful to teach kids thee KEEPS of Internet Safety: (Keep safe, Keep away and Keep telling).
4. Save evidence. Tell your child if he ever receives something that is hurtful, slanderous, hateful, to save or print the message. You may need it to identify the bully or contact their parents with evidence.
5. Block further communication. If your child is victimized change your phone number or e-mail account, and talk to your provider. Contact police for threats of violence and extortion.
6. Google your child. One tip is to periodically google your child's name to see what (if anything) is being posted online. Just go to Google then put your child's name in quotation marks and see if something comes up. Google can also send you email alerts.
7. Monitor that computer. Keep your computer in a central space and out of your kid's bedroom. Or at least let your child know that having a computer is a PRIVILEGE and it may be taken away when rules or regulations are not followed. Let your child also know that you will log onto his account.
8. Pull the plug. If your child ever uses a cell phone, pager, answering machine, or fax, to send vicious gossip or hate, remove the electronic gizmo from your kid and pull the computer plug from power surge.
9. Teach assertive skills. Research finds that kids who learn how to be assertive and appear more confident are less likely to be targeted by bullies. In fact, studies show it's often not how "different" your child looks or acts but rather her victim-like demeanor that makes her an easy target. So teach your child an arsenal of strategies she can use to defuse a bully and then practice with her until she feels confident in using them on her own.
10. Take your child seriously. This is painful stuff and your child needs your empathy and support. Watch your child carefully and tune into his or her emotional signs. Don't let your child be victimized.
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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming Big Book of Parenting Solutions.