Teach your kids the hazards of cyberbullying
Sending nasty electronic messages without thinking can be devastating for sender and recipient. (Fotolia.com / February 12, 2013)
While bullying has always been a problem encountered during childhood and adolescence, we all know it's on the rise. When a child is intentionally and repeatedly mean to another child, the cycle begins. Bullying occurs on the playground, at lunch in the cafeteria, in locker rooms, even over the phone. And now that so many children have access to the latest technology, the problem has become even more prevalent.
Enter the newest form -- cyberbullying -- whereby children and teens deliberately use digital media to disseminate false, embarrassing, or just plain mean messages or pictures about one person to others. Cyberbullying can occur via text, email, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media outlets. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls cyberbullying "the most common online risk for all teens."
Studies have shown that between 25 percent to 45 percent of teens report being bullied online. Many kids report such treatment having occurred more than once. Cyberbullying is affecting all ages, as even young children often have access to technology and the Internet.
Children of all ages need to understand that the Internet is not a "safe" place, and that it's a public forum. Even if you delete a message or photo, it actually continues to exist in cyberspace. Also, many teens mistakenly think they won't "get caught" if they bully someone online, or that such behavior is "not that big a deal."
All parents need to discuss Internet safety and the problem of cyberbullying with their children. This is especially important for tweens and teens, as they spend much of their time online. Just as kids must learn and practice good manners in public, they also need to mind their manners online. If a child wouldn't say something to another young person's face, then the same dig should not be emailed or texted. It's really as simple as that.
This is what I call the "front door rule": Tell your child that if he/she writes an email or text, or posts something derogatory about another person on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (or other sites), to think before they push "send." If they wouldn't want to post the information on their front door for family members and all the neighbors to see, they should stop, think and change -- or forget about -- the message. It could hurt someone more than they realize and could also be forwarded on to hundreds, thousands, even millions of others.
There was something to be said for conversations that were limited to face-to-face encounters and telephones made for nothing more than talking!
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)