An extract on cyberbullying taken from ‘One Parent To Another’ by Tony Anscombe
At times we all need help. When it comes to keeping our families safe online, there should be no embarrassment whatsoever if a situation comes up where you need to turn to a professional or a trusted organization for help. These people are experts. They will not judge your uncertainty or lack of knowledge. They will simply be keen to help.
I think this is highly important to say right up front, because we’re going to take a look at a very serious topic that’s been getting a lot of attention: cyberbullying. This is any kind of harassment or bullying behavior that occurs online. Typically, like most bullying,
you’ll know it when you see it.
It can take the form of malicious rumors circulating in email or on social media sites; it could be a page on a site that’s designed to host hurtful messages about a person; it could be flat-out sexual harassment. It can take the form of images, text messages, or threats made in chats during an online game. In all cases, they hurt the recipient, whether directly or by encouraging scorn from others. Again, you will know it the moment you see it.
As I write this, there is an article on the BBC website detailing a survey in the UK by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) that found 1 in 5 children who use social networking sites suffered a negative experience in 2012. Their definition of the term cyberbullying included bullying, unwanted sexual messages, cyberstalking, and feeling pressure to look a certain way. Most of the experiences seemed to center on an online bullying tactic called trolling, which involves insulting or intimidating others, usually under a false identity, to provoke a reaction. This is a timely article, as I’m sure you’ve seen enough recent headlines about just how terrible cyberbullying can get – even to the point where the bullied child takes his or her own life in the face of such torment. It’s concerning that a child can be made to feel so isolated, so helpless and so alone that they resort to this final step. I hope that this book and the advice in it makes us all more aware of all aspects of cyberbullying, in all its forms, whether it happens in passing or if it’s more extreme, so that we can protect our children. That goes for their digital lives and the way their digital lives cast ripples into their personal lives as well. As I’ve said before, the two are now innately intertwined. We must be engaged and ever present.
Bullying is not a new topic and has been around since the dawn of time,whether picking on someone because they can’t kick a ball straight, because of the color of their hair, their weight, their race or just because they are less confident.
Unfortunately, children can be very cruel and much of this I think is due to a lack of understanding of the consequences of their actions and how it makes the other person actually feel.
Name-calling can now be done anonymously and very publicly through an online account. It is also much harder to address because it’s hard to identify a go-to person for recourse. If your child is bullied in the schoolyard and you address it with the school, then maybe someone gets suspended. It’s harder online as it happens virtually and can be done while hiding behind a false identity.
Where do you turn? We’re going to talk about that as part of this chapter, but right away I will add that many schools today have cyberbullying policies in effect. Schools are becoming an immediate go-to place to address cyberbullying among students, even if it does not actually happen on their premises. If you don’t know where to start, you should always put your child’s school right at the top of the list.
If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied, there are some practical steps to take. Right off the bat, take it seriously and act. That’s the first piece of advice for anyone. We must not let it fester and become a much larger problem. Know that cyberbullying can be as simple as an email or text – it doesn’t have to come from a gang of kids or have to build up over time to qualify. It can be a single, hurtful act. If your child is being bullied and feels threatened or hurt, it qualifies.
If you actually fear for your child’s safety, don’t hesitate to call the police. You’ll know right away if it’s that serious.
Act on it
Take a proactive stance, have a conversation about cyberbullying. What it is, what it looks like. Let them know the signs and let them know that they should act.
Likewise, if you think your child is the one doing the bullying, take it seriously and act. Know those signs too. Is your child creating unflattering images of others? Is your child posting on a social network page that’s exclusionary, hurtful, or just downright mean? Your child may not even understand it or be fully aware of it, but that’s bullying – and someone out there is the victim. Put an end to it, just as if it was your child on the receiving end. It’s that serious.
This all requires a tremendous amount of responsibility on our part, which is a theme you’ve seen many times throughout this book. It’s up to you to take an active interest in their online activities, whether by being friends with them on a social media site or just by asking them about what they are doing. Because “it takes a village” to raise a child, we need to keep an eye out for other children too. In so many ways, stamping out cyberbullying is up to all of us, collectively as parents.
As for knowing some of the warning signs that your child is being cyberbullied, yes, that can get a bit tricky. What you want to do is keep an eye out on moods, any worrying signals that something is wrong.
Sure, that sounds like it could apply to most teens, but what you’re specifically looking for are those moods or changes in typical behavior that simply don’t feel right on a gut level. That’s your cue to really step in and find out what’s going on. Having an open communication line already in place so that your child can talk to you without feeling pressured for information is another great step in the right direction. When we do uncover a problem, as a parent the temptation is to find out right there and then what happened.
Resist the urge to interrogate. Sometimes a family friend or relative is in a better spot to be the go-to person,
so don’t feel hurt if your child talks to others before he or she talks to you.
Embrace it, as your child just might feel more comfortable and give up more information to someone other than you, at least initially. From there you can step in.
If you do indeed spot a case of cyberbullying, be sure to do the following: document the bullying. This is vitally important.
Get screen captures of the bullying text, image, or site. Save the emails. Create a record of evidence. Even better, train your child to do the same in the moment when he or she feels like there’s bullying going on. Have your child share it with you, or that trusted adult we just talked about. Help the child understand that one of the first steps he or she should take is making sure that others are aware of the problem, that capturing evidence can help determine just how serious the bullying is – and what needs to be done about it right away.
In the meantime, help your kid recognize that many bullies thrive on getting a rise out of their victims. They want to know that they hurt the victim. They want the child to respond so they can then take the reaction and twist it to create further hurt.
Let your children know this, and see to it that they resist the urge to respond to the attack. It can only make matters worse. Plus, depending on how your child chooses to respond, that response can paint your child in an ugly light as well – even if he or she was not the instigator.
As part of documenting the evidence, don’t be afraid to seek out professional help through a teacher, doctor, school counselor, or even a police officer. There are also many external organizations that can assist you. They have professional help at hand and will give you good advice on your specific case.
This is also so important. While I can give you general advice on what to do, every case of cyberbullying is unique. There’s a specific context, culture and situation at work that requires a tailored solution and counsel. They may even offer the opportunity to advise your kids directly. Sometimes that’s what it takes – there are no blanket answers here.
Where to turn
Websites such as social networks give you the ability to report incorrect behavior. Get to know the tools that they have available and don’t hesitate to use them if the situation demands. Additionally, there are numerous organizations in every country that can help.
Here’s a brief list of organizations that I would recommend for more information, and also assistance if needed:
A website managed by the U.S. Federal Government, StopBullying.gov provides information from various government agencies on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.
Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that advocates on child and family issues. They also study the effects that media and technology have on young users.
ChildNet’s mission is to work in partnership with others around the world to help make the Internet a great and safe place for children.
(National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children)
The NSPCC was founded in 1884 and their vision is to end cruelty to children in the UK. Naturally, this extends to their digital lives as well.
Another way you and your child can take control – removing negative content
My wife has been looking over my shoulder from time to time as I’ve been writing this book and she just asked a great question: how do you remove comments or content that you don’t want to appear on the Internet? You can see why she asked that because it absolutely applies to the subject, so let’s take a closer look.
We’ve already talked about the fact that we should assume that our online content never disappears, and that we should make sure that our privacy settings are fully understood when joining and posting content on the Internet.
But what do we do about content that we don’t want appearing, whether in a search engine or in a social network? What if there’s an instance of clear and present cyberbullying that you’d like to see removed? There are two different solutions here, one for search engines and one for social networks.
Search engines scan websites for content through a combination of complex mathematics and code. From there, they serve snippets of content in search results based on what someone is searching for. This means that you need to address the problem of a nasty search result at the root i.e. the website where the offending content is posted.
Depending on the site, you can contact the website owner and ask them to remove the personal or identifiable information that has been posted about your child. Most responsible site owners will do this. Now, once the content is deleted or corrected, you can submit a removal request to the search engine, which means that they will scan the site or web page in question once again, which will make the offending content disappear from the search result.
So what about the procedures for removing offending content from other popular websites?
Let’s take a look at a few of the major players:
If someone has posted inappropriate content, created a group or page about your child, or you feel that you spotted some content that’s generally not appropriate you can report this to Facebook using the “Report this Post/Page or Group,” which is shown as a link under each post or page. You can even report a person if you feel they are fake, and at a minimum you can block them from connecting with your account. Educate your kids on this feature!
If someone has posted something inappropriate on Twitter, you can report it by visiting the Twitter Help Center (http://support.twitter.com/) and filing a support ticket.
Here you can make a report to YouTube by selecting the “Flag” button under the video in question and selecting the reason. Note: you may need an account to make a report.
Most websites want to comply with the wishes of users, especially in the case of content about children. Never hesitate to contact them – dig around on the site and find a button, an email, or even a phone number where you can make a report. Plus, let’s not forget about the direct approach here too: contacting the person who posted it. In clear and even tones, see if they’ll remove it. Sometimes, this is all it takes – but certainly don’t rely on that alone. After all, you’re possibly dealing with a bully and should set your expectations accordingly …
In a nutshell
Remember that the Internet is a fun place overall, and
even while we address some of the serious issues and concerns that come along with it, we want our kids to see the Internet as a good place.
To be very candid, it’s easy to get caught up in some of the headlines – those high-profile cases of cyberbullying where something absolutely tragic occurs as a result. It’s important to be aware of what’s happening out there, but it’s also vital to keep our perspective in check. These are extreme cases of cyberbullying, hence the headlines, and we should remind ourselves that cyberbullying doesn’t have to make the headlines to hurt and have lasting effects. It can take more subtle forms that are still tremendously painful for a child. We need to be vigilant, and we need to nip it in the bud when we spot it.
As with so many things we’ve talked about in these pages, trust your gut and act on it. Keep an even keel when it happens, and then do what’s right for your child.
- Download One Parent to Another here: http://www.avg.com/ebooks/one-parent-to-another
- Follow Tony Anscombe at his blog: http://blogs.avg.com/author/tony-anscombe/ and on Twitter @tonyatavg
- For more advice, download One Parent to Another – http://www.avg.com/ebooks/one-parent-to-another