Cyberbullying, Part 2 - Protecting Your Kids

Oct 20, 2011

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Nerd Chicks love a happy ending.  Cliff hangers at the end of our favorite TV shows drive us nuts.  After last week's discussion of types of cyberbullying and the ways our kids are at risk, you may have been left thinking, “Ok, now that we're sufficiently concerned, what's a parent to do?  Never fear, this week we're exploring ways to reduce the risk that your child will become a victim of cyberbullying.

Disclaimer time: you know your kids and your family best.  Some parents may be comfortable with a more hands off approach involving open communication with a trusted child, while others may need a little more control.  We're here to present some options to help you decide the path that's right for your family.  The main components to protecting any child are communication and education.  Teach your kids to be vigilant about protecting their private information.  Check out www.stopcyberbullying.org together to read about the ways cyberbullies target victims and how to get help if you think you've been a victim.  There's even a quiz to help kids determine if they're unwittingly engaging in activities that may be victimizing others.  If you don't find all you need there, www.wiredsafety.org and www.netsmartz.org are great sources of Internet safety information.

E-Mail and Social Networking Sites:  Anyone can create an email address and the person's identification is rarely verified.  Make sure your kids know not to open emails from unknown senders, even if the name looks familiar, and to be especially wary of attachments.  Make sure they never share their passwords with anyone but you.  Set your child's Facebook or Twitter account privacy settings at the highest possible security level to prevent private information from being shared unintentionally and publicly. 

Cell Phones: Talk to your kids about "sexting" and the inherent dangers in participating.  It can be illegal, images can be used against them by a bully, and it may affect their scholastic future.  Encourage them to talk to you if they ever receive a text or picture message that makes them uncomfortable.  Research shows that when parents are involved in their kids' activities they're less likely to engage in these behaviors.  Whether that means limiting their per-month texting allowances or monitoring the texts and pictures they receive, let your kids know that limits you set are to help protect them.

Online Gaming: People who don't "game" don't realize how socially intimate the experience can be. Ask your children about their gaming experience like you ask about their day at school, specifically their interactions with other players.  If you sense that they're forming a close relationship, treat that person like you would any new friend.  What do you want to know about that person to protect your child from a possible threat?  If you suspect your child is being threatened or bullied by someone, contact the game administrators and report the abuse.  In many instances, players can be banned for such activities.

Instant Messaging (IM): IM accounts can be acquired anonymously. Review your child's buddy list for unknown contacts and talk to him or her about the identities of the people on their list. Learn as many of the chat acronyms as you can, such as POS (parent over shoulder) and A/S/L (age/sex/location) so you'll be aware of anyone saying anything inappropriate to your child.

How do you know if your child is being bullied?  They may avoid the computer, cell phone, and other technological devices or appear stressed when receiving an e-mail, IM or text.  They may withdraw from friends or family, or be reluctant to attend school or social events.  If you suspect your child is being bullied, trust your instincts.

Finally, you have technology on your side.  Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com) offers a great parental control and monitoring product that allows parents to limit access to the internet, including the ability to block posting to chats, blogs and forums, and monitor what your child does when they are online.  You can see all posts to social media sites, even on accounts you may not know your child has.  One great resource for parents looking to be alert to potential cyberbullying: the software looks for sequences of words that may be considered threatening and can send you an auto-alert any time you child may be engaged in online behavior that puts them at risk.

For more tips on how to protect your family from cyberbullying, drop us a note on Facebook (facebook.com/nerdsoncall) or email us at nerdchick@callnerds.com.