Protecting your kids from Cyber Bullying

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As my brother noted in his best man speech for me, I was not the nicest of kids growing up. In his exact words, I was an angry and mean person.  Okay, I may have bullied my brothers a bit. I was also known to make fun of folks now and then, but that was part of growing up back then. You messed with people and if you pushed too hard or said something really dumb, you got popped in the mouth. You can ask the kids that used to bully my younger brothers what happened when they messed with one of us. Bless my mom for having four boys.

Those were much simpler times, no real internet (unless you count dial up as internet). Kids were brought up without much coddling. For the most part, if you were picking on folks it didn’t go over board. In today’s society there are numerous more outlets for kids to taunt each other.  Some of the taunting is in jest, but others not so much. With all of the advancements that we have in technology, some really rotten things have happened.

I’ll often joke that social media is a lot like high school, a lot of cliques and fiefdoms. People talk about social media overload because they are on 24/7 and don’t want to accept friendships with people they hated in high school. Granted, adults can zone out the folks that we don’t like, but for the younger generation it’s not that easy. Their high school life mixes with their online lives, which breeds what you can call the “mean girl” syndrome or cyber bullying.  It’s really just one large chat room where the picked on don’t stand a chance.

If you are questioning where I am going with this rant, let’s rewind to my morning drive into work yesterday. The topic of discussion on talk radio was of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year old girl who committed suicide after falling victim to bullying of both the in-the-flesh and of the cyber varieties. The whole subject makes me sick.  Kids are brought up nowadays as young adults, but the internet is faceless and there aren’t many consequences for bullying. Think about it.  There is no human connection with taunting someone online so kids often don’t realize when they’ve gone too far.

Unfortunately, Phoebe Prince’s suicide isn’t an isolated incident and there are numerous stories online.   The thing that makes it scarier, according to the Boston Herald’s article, was that the law is not currently designed to prevent or remedy cyber bullying.  “The laws when they were made didn’t anticipate the cyberworld,” said Plymouth DA Timothy Cruz. “Certainly there should be something as pertains to cyberbullying.”

So with that statement, it is up to parents to take an active role in protecting their kids, especially online. I do not have kids but have given the following suggestions to my mother when helping out with my 15-year old sister.

Teach the online right and wrong – Now you do it in real life so why not extend it to your children’s virtual lives? If you are active in the social real, you should share that knowledge with your kids. The biggest lesson is that nothing you post ever goes away. Plus, in a public forum everyone can see it. Sure you might thing Suzie Q smells bad, but should you broadcast it to hundreds of people online? Ask them how they would feel if they read that they smelled like a two-day old tuna sandwich.

Be involved – It may sound old fashioned, but getting involved with your children goes a long way. Think about how you grew up. If your parents caught you acting up, chances are you would get smacked in the ass or grounded. Now I am not advocating violence, but become a friend of your kid and follow them on Twitter. It might be a little big brotherish, but it goes along the lines of what you should be posting on social sites. Kids should thing what would my folks think about me posting this? With the new TV’s integrating Facebook and Twitter, you could do a monthly family check up on these pages. Make fun of each others’ pages and say what’s working and what isn’t.

Networks don’t have to be all-inclusive – Many of us are ardent supporters of the thought process that follower counts really don’t matter. So why not keep it that way online. Only invite people in who you know.  That cute boy professing his love for you from a field trip… Well if you don’t remember meeting him, he doesn’t exist. It’s probably Sally down the road or creepy Mr. Wendle who had to let your parents know he moved into the neighborhood.

Privacy is nice – Just because everyone has the chance to own a soapbox and air their dirty laundry, doesn’t mean they should. There are also things that should be kept private. Both of which are important for kids to understand. Much like the right v. wrong example, there should be a common decency as well as knowing what should/shouldn’t be said.

While cyber bullying was the main reason for this rant, it is truly important to mentor the younger generation on how they should handle themselves online. After all there are no second chances when it comes to first impressions.

What do you think? Are there extra steps that parents can take that I missed?

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