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Protecting your children in cyberspace

Collage of social media logosWhen students venture onto the Web, they wander well out of the familiarity of their neighborhoods and into the unknown of cyberspace. When they text, message or share pictures via their cell phones, computers or gaming consoles, they reach out to an endless network of “friends,” some they know and many who they may do not.

Technology offers unprecedented social and collaborative learning opportunities, but it also carries risks. A student’s best protection online is two-fold—parents who monitor their children’s activity and students who learn to self-monitor their own on-line behavior. Informed parents can help their children safely enjoy the benefits of digital communication and the Internet.

Cyber bullying

A growing concern for middle and high school students is online bullying, also known as cyber bullying.

Many parents are familiar with traditional bullying such as name calling and on-going harassment in neighborhoods, school yards and on buses. Cyber bullying uses technology to take bullying to a new level. Cell phones, email and social media sites allow bullies to reach their victims 24/7. Most often, cyber bullying is recurring threats or offensive messages or photos of a person sent or posted online. 

Examples of cyber bullying include:

  • Spreading rumors or personal information about a person,
  • Posting threatening or hurtful messages,
  • Stealing another person’s identity or masquerading as someone else,
  • Taking and posting photos without the person’s consent or
  • Excluding someone from a group.

Cyber bullying can rob a student of the chance to fully enjoy and thrive in school and can lead to depression, anxiety and even suicide. Bullied students may stay away from school or school functions. Unlike face-to-face bullying that stops when the bullies stop, cyber bullying remains forever on the Internet. Internet photos and posts can resurface months or years later, rekindling the victim’s pain.

Cyber bullying statistics are disturbing:

  • 68 percent of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem.
  • 80 percent of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying.
  • 90 percent of students have regular access to the Internet.
  • 70 percent of teens report seeing frequent bullying online.
  • 90 percent of teen witnesses say they have ignored it.

Here are some great tips for parents to help their children use the Internet safely and appropriately:

  • Talk to your student about the responsible use of social media, including the consequences of cyber bullying.
  • Set guidelines for the proper use of technology and monitor its use.
  • Encourage your student to speak up if they have been a victim of cyber bullying.
  • Help your child see bullying through the eyes of the victim and reinforce positive role models and values.
  • Discourage your student from participating in negative behaviors online or with their phone.
  • Model appropriate use of technology.
  • Learn about and participate in Internet safety educational programs.
  • Install blocking or filtering software on all electronic devices as part of a comprehensive approach to online safety.