Thursday, August 28, 2008

Protecting our children from cyberbullying

When I worked as a School Counselor, I regularly delivered a lesson to students and staff regarding the newest culprit endangering our young people: cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is when a child is negatively targeted by another child using technology. It can come in the form of harassment, threats, or humiliation through electronic mediums including text messaging, social networking sites, or email.
Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention featured information on this growing issue. The feature refers to electronic aggression, a broader term encompassing all types of violence that occurs electronically (electronic aggression is only bullying when the act is repeated).
As the CDC points out, the use of technology has many benefits for young people. I have worked with many children who were normally shy and reserved, but they made social connections via MySpace. Unfortunately, I have also worked with many young people who were devastated and depressed because something embarrassing was posted about them on MySpace.
Many people who know me know that I have never had a MySpace or Facebook account. I have had to put out way too many fires related to the social networking sites, and I just cannot bring myself to join. By no means are the sites the problem. In fact, I often peruse my sister's site to read updates posted by mutual friends. And I carry a cell phone even though I encountered many situations when a child harassed another child over the phone or via text message.
In fact, cyberbullying is just another example of why we need to be all-up-in our child's business. Technology has allowed our children access to individuals all around the world, but what's frightening is that individuals all around the world now have access to our children.
Fortunately it is not hard to monitor a child's electronic communication. I suggest making if very clear to your child(ren) that they should not use technology if it means that they are doing something that they would not do in your presence. If my child had a MySpace or Facebook account, you better believe that I would be checking his/her page regularly. And quite frankly, up to a certain age, there is absolutely no need for a child to have text messaging privileges on a cell phone. 
But more importantly, we simply need to make our presence known in a child's life. I cringe when I hear about children who have a computer in their bedroom. What is the point of that? The computer should be located so that the parent is able to pop in and see what the child is doing at any given time. That is a teacher's greatest classroom management skill - his/her presence.
And by being present in their lives, we offer our children the structure, support and protection that they need to have healthy and successful childhoods.

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