Nerd Chick Adventures: Cyberbullying, Part 1 - What It's All About

Oct 05, 2011

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These days we spend more of our lives online than ever before and our kids are certainly no exception.  Parents and caregivers hear more and more about the risks our kids are exposed to on the internet and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the flood of risks and tips.  One question we get over and over from parents is how to protect their family from cyberbullying.  In this 2-part series, we'll explain the lingo and give you some tools to arm your kids in cyber-land so you can protect them even when you're not with them.

There are so many terms that refer to online abuses; it can be hard to keep them straight.  "Cyberbullying" is harassing or intimidating someone over the internet through mediums such as email, instant messaging, social networking sites (e.g. Facebook and MySpace) and cell phones.  There are several types of cyberbullying:

Flaming and Trolling - sending or posting hostile messages intended to “inflame the emotions of others.

Happy-Slapping - recording someone being harassed or bullied in a way that usually involves physical abuse, then posting the video online for public viewing.

Identity Theft/Impersonation - stealing someone’s password and/or hijacking their online accounts to send or post incriminating or humiliating pictures, videos or information.

Photoshopping - doctoring digital images so that the main subject is placed in a compromising or embarrassing situation.

Physical Threats - sending messages that involve threats to a person’s physical safety.

Rumor Spreading
- spreading gossip through e-mail, text, or social networking sites.

Unfortunately, anytime your child is online they can be targeted.  From social networking sites to online gaming (both via the computer and through a console like X-Box or PS3), to texting and chat rooms, our kids are spending more time exposed than ever before.  However, it's not as scary as it sounds, I promise, particularly if your kids avoid riskier behaviors that can leave them more vulnerable.  Recognizing the risks and communicating about how they can protect themselves is the first step to keeping them safe.

Cell Phones:  A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (www.pewinternet.org) shows that teens (ages 12-17) use text messaging to communicate with their friends more than e-mail or instant messaging.  "Sexting" is a sexually-explicit text or picture message sent by one minor to another.  According to Pew, only about 4% of the teens they surveyed say they have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude image of themselves to someone via text message; however, 15% have received one, and older teens are more likely to be the recipient.

Online Gaming:  Online gaming allows your child to communicate with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of other people inside a giant chat room.  The anonymity can provide your child with some safeguards - if they don't tell anyone who they are then no one is likely to target them. However, they can leave themselves pretty exposed if they share too much personal information, or get too emotionally invested in the game.  These games often have a competitive aspect to them, from fighting with other players for in-game items to "killing" other players, sometimes extremely realistically.  Bullies may feel empowered to be mean and can go to extreme lengths to follow another player around, mock them, repeatedly "kill" them or spam them with nasty messages.

Social Networking, Email and Instant Messaging: Children sometimes forget that what they share or post can be forwarded just as instantly as it was received, setting themselves up as a potential target if they share private information.  Some kids intentionally post or share intimate details of their lives because they believe it will help them gain popularity. This can leave them a prime target for a cyberbully.

With all the ways they’re potentially exposed to danger, should you just unplug and live off-grid?  Next week we will share our tips and tricks to help keep your kids safe online.  In the meantime, drop us a note on Facebook (facebook.com/nerdsoncall) or chat LIVE with a NERD at www.callnerds.com for help with your family’s cyber situation.