At any given moment, teenagers are sharing photos with their friends, writing confidential messages to their significant others via text or Snapchatting with acquaintances. It may seem harmless, but there is a very real downside for teens in today’s environment of 24/7 communication: Cyberbullying.
Some students are using email, text messages, instant messages, social media, online forums and Internet chat rooms to threaten, harass or humiliate their peers. Boys more commonly bully by sending inappropriate messages or by threatening to fight or hurt someone, while girls are more likely to spread rumors, make fun of someone or tell secrets.
“We take any type of bullying very seriously,” says Romules Durant, Superintendent/CEO of Toledo Public Schools. “When it comes to cyberbullying, we advise parents to be vigilant about the signs and to make sure their children take precautions not to fall victim or become cyberbullies themselves.”
Spotting the warning signs can be tricky. Sudden odd behaviors from your teen could indicate a cyberbullying problem. These may include: Withdrawing from family and friends, as well as activities they once enjoyed; appearing anxious after reading a text, IM or email; avoiding talking about—or being secretive about—computer or cell phone activities; becoming sad, angry or upset during or after using the Internet or cell phone; suffering an unexplained drop in grades.
However, there are ways for parents and educators to help students become immune to cyberbullying and the emotional damage it can cause. Researchers at the Cyberbullying Research Center created the following Top Ten Tips for Teens, which may be helpful for sharing with your kids.
1. Stay educated. You and your teen should first research what constitutes cyberbullying, as well as how and where it is most likely to occur.
2. Protect passwords. Remind your teen to never leave passwords or other identifying information where others can see it. This information should never be shared with anyone, even someone close to them, such as a best friend.
3. Use good photo sense: If a photo isn’t appropriate to share with a relative, it’s probably not suitable for sending to a friend or significant other. Teens, especially, should understand that once they send a photo, it’s no longer in their control.
4. Never open unidentified or unsolicited messages. If your teen doesn’t recognize the sender of an email, text or Facebook message, they should delete the communication immediately. These messages could contain viruses that automatically infect your device if opened.
5. Log out of online accounts. It’s important for your teen to remember to log out of their email and social media accounts, especially after using a public computer. Even when using a personal device, your teen should make a habit of not saving passwords in form field and exiting out of programs after using them. They don’t want to risk having someone else pose as them online
6. Pause before the post. Your teen should never post anything that may compromise his or her reputation.
7. Raise awareness. There are many ways for your teen to prevent cyberbullying from happening to others. Ideas include hosting an event, creating a club or building a campaign to bring awareness to the cyberbullying phenomenon. It’s not until others are aware of it too that we can truly prevent it from occurring.
8. Set up privacy controls. It may seem like a hassle to your teen, but restricting access to their online profile to only trustworthy friends by configuring the settings is the best way to ensure maximum protection.
9. Reference search engines. Your teen should regularly type their name in every major search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo) to make sure no personal information or photo comes up that can be used to target them. If they find something, they should immediately take action to have it removed before it becomes a problem.
10. Be one less cyberbully. There’s only one way for your teen to truly take a stand against cyberbullies—refuse to participate in any negative online behavior.
To learn more, visit the Cyberbullying Research Center online.