A 15 year-old girl in San Jose named Audrie Potts hanged herself after finding out that, while she was passed out at a party, she was sexually assaulted by several boys who photographed themselves doing it and posted the images on social media. The suicide was later the subject of a wrongful death action that resulted in a $950,000 judgment against the boys’ families, according to People Magazine. The boys served very little jail time due to the fact they were juveniles at the time of the crime.
The case of Audrie Potts is just one example of a young person being driven to commit suicide because of the pervasive ability of social media users to bully and harass relentlessly.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.”
Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.
In the past, bullying only consisted of physical altercations in the schoolyard or some other public place. The victim had the option of calling on an adult to fix the problem or learning how to box.
Cyberbullying is more insidious because it is often done anonymously. The victim often cannot identify who his or her bullies are and thus has no defense against the bullying. Hence, more often than it is comfortable to imagine, the only way out, at least from the point of view of the victim, is death.
How to help your kids and teens fight cyberbullying
To help prevent cyberbullying it is important for parents to take some measure of control over how their children use social media. Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing online. A great place to start is by establishing rules about what they should and should not post online. I love this idea mentioned in a blog by YourSphere called an “Open Phone Policy”. Finally, children need to be empowered to confide in an adult if they are being cyberbullied. Some parents simply choose to friend their children or simply monitor their social media by asking for login/password information. However, you should keep in mind that often with today’s tech savvy kids this might not be foolproof since they could set up two accounts – one that you follow along with, and another that they may keep hidden from you. I discuss this in detail on a previous blog about hiding apps.
If your child or teen is being cyberbullied, you should encourage them to record the text and images being used to bully and then immediately block the person doing the bullying. Do not respond directly to the cyberbully.
A cyberbullying victim should also report the incident(s) to the internet service provider, law enforcement (especially if threats of violence or sexually-explicit videos and images are involved) and the school. Depending on the applicable laws and policies, these entities will be able to take corrective action.
If you start to notice that your child is spending too much time online or they seem depressed or frustrated after using social media take that as a warning sign. In addition, to having a heart-to-heart discussion, I also encourage parents to use a high-quality parental control before even giving your child a smartphone. If not, it is never too late to start! If they have and Andoird or Apple device, I always recommend Netsanity. They have a great Timeblocker scheduler, when used on a regular basis, helps set up regular social media breaks. In some cases when you have find that there are certain apps that you may want to block based on your child’s age. Netsanity’s Appblocker can be used to block apps such as YikYak, AfterSchool, or SnapChat, and others, on demand, if you find that these apps are being used as tools to cyberbully your child, the app is inappropriate or if you just feel that your child or even your teen is not ready for the responsibility associated with certain apps.
How a 17 year-old girl struck back at her cyberbullies
Recently, BizPac reported on the case of Lauren Brocious, a senior at Millbrook High School in Winchester, Va. Lauren had been cyberbullied since she was in the eighth grade but chose to suffer in silence. However, when a friend of hers confided that she was being cyberbullied as well, she decided that she had had enough and struck back in an inspirational YouTube video.
Lauren starts the video by writing mean words on her face, such as ugly and stupid and trash while explaining how many people define themselves by the labels others give them. Then she wiped away those words and replaced them with more positive words, such as pretty and love. Her message: “Love yourself, and remember you are amazing.”
Finally, having an open phone policy with your kids and teens as well as regular conversations about staying safe, appropriate and KIND when they go online will do more to keep your child safe than just about any other action you can take!
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