(ARA) – Cyberbullying, the bullying of a person through the use of an electronic device such as a computer or cell phone, is becoming a growing national problem. Anyone can be a victim of cyberbullying, but students are frequent targets. From fake Facebook pages, to the posting of embarrassing videos and photos, to Kick a Ginger Day (harassing red-headed people based on a 2005 episode of South Park), more than 20 percent of today’s U.S. students, ages 10 to 18, report being a victim of cyberbullying (26 percent for girls versus 16 percent for boys).
Because of a number of highly publicized cases of cyberbullying – including most recently, the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman whose roommate posted a video of the student having sex in his dorm room – colleges, school districts, law enforcement and state legislatures are taking action to address cyberbullying.
More than two dozen states have specifically enacted legislation or updated statutes to address the growing problem of cyberbullying, according to FindLaw.com, the leading online resource for legal information. Most new laws mandate that school districts enact policies involving cyberbullying, and take steps to suspend or expel students who engage in it.
Here are some tips from FindLaw.com on what parents can do now to prevent cyberbullying, and what to do if you suspect that your child is being singled out by cyberbullies:
* Ask about friends or other kids. Your child may be reluctant to open up about being the victim of cyberbullying. Start the conversation by asking your child if he has heard about other kids at school who have been victimized. Because girls are more likely to be targets of cyberbullying, ask your student about groups of girls being mean to other groups or a specific girl, or if they’ve heard about boys texting inappropriate photos of girls.
* Watch for signs. Does your child seem withdrawn? Reluctant to use some forms of technology? Maybe depressed? These are generalizations, but if you’ve noticed any changes in your child’s behavior, he or she may be the victim of technology torment. Have you noticed your child exiting out of a computer screen or smart phone quickly when you walk into a room? Is he or she spending an increasing amount of time on the Internet each day (specifically at night) or using multiple online accounts? Your child could be a cyberbully.
* Set boundaries. It’s critical to talk to your child about cyberbullying – what it is and what to do if your child feels threatened. In addition, parents should set clear boundaries about your young person’s use of technology. Clearly communicate your expectations for responsible use of technology and that, while you respect your child’s privacy, you intend to monitor it. Explain the consequences if you believe your child is abusing or misusing technology such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, an e-mail account or mobile device, or if it is interfering with their school work.
* “It’s just a joke.” Many kids may not perceive that they are involved in cyberbullying. Creating a fake Facebook page, sending embarrassing photos of another student to each other with a cell phone or other actions involving the Internet or mobile communications may be perceived by kids as “normal,” what other kids at their school do, or as “a joke” or “prank.” In fact, based on school policies or local or state laws, those “jokes” could get your child in a lot of trouble.
* It’s illegal. Cyberbullying is serious and, in a handful of states, illegal. If your child is involved in cyberbullying another child, he or she could face legal consequences, and you, as a parent, could become embroiled in a lawsuit if the parents of a student victimized by your child sue your child for emotional damages. In a growing number of cases across the country, students are being held responsible for cyberbullying, facing consequences that range from expulsion from school to prosecution.
* Passwords are private. Tell your kids not to share their online passwords with friends. A common way that kids bully each other online (posting hurtful comments or sending fake messages) is to do so from another kid’s account.
* Friends don’t send embarrassing photos. Make it clear to your child and his or her friends – it is not cool to send embarrassing photos taken at school events, parties, dances and other events to other students, who may ridicule or taunt the student in the embarrassing photo.
* It can haunt you. What many kids and adults don’t realize is that what you post on Facebook and other social media can remain accessible on the Internet for years and years. Those hurtful comments, snide remarks and embarrassing photos (including inappropriate photos of their bodies or body parts) can be searched by college admissions offices and future employers.
* Others are watching. Parents should strongly recommend to their kids that they never, ever post or send to anyone photos of themselves in sexually suggestive poses. There have been numerous legal cases of boyfriends forwarding photos of their girlfriends (or ex-girlfriends) to other students. Such photos can make their way to the Internet and into the watchful eyes of child porn addicts.
* Monitor e-mails with teachers. It’s sad, but true: Students can be intimidated and bullied by their teachers and school coaches, too. Insist that your young person always copies you, the parent, on any and all messages with their teachers and coaches.
* School policy. Find out if your school has a policy about cyberbullying. Many schools are just starting to develop these policies (in some states, schools are mandated to do so under state law). Unlike physical or verbal bullying that takes place on school grounds, most cyberbullying takes place outside of normal school hours. Going through your Parent Teacher Organization (PTO or PTA), advocate that your school set a policy for cyberbullying outside of school hours.
* Safe place. Cyberbullying is very real and it is possible that your student could at some point be one of its victims. Ask your school to create a safe place or resource for kids to report cyberbullying – such as a voicemail tip line – and ask your school to invite speakers to address the issue.
For further information and how you can protect your child while on the internet and from cyberbullying, click here!