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How to Keep Your Kids and Family Safe from Cyberbullying

Posted on May 14, 2011
Among the many dangers of the Internet, cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon that is gaining more and more exposure in the media and in local governments. Parents should learn to recognize the warning signs of online bullying to keep children and family safe.
 
A Definition of Cyberbullying
 
According to Bill Belsey of www.cyberbullying.org, cyberbullying “involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others." Much like a face-to-face bully, cyberbullies engage in behaviors that attempt to chronically annoy, coerce, or otherwise harm a target. Some cyberbullies work alone while others work together on the same victim.
 
How Does Someone Cyberbully?
 
With the proliferation of the Internet and its many associated communication media, a bully is capable of sending unsolicited messages by e-mail, engaging in bullying behavior in a chat room, or continually bullying someone over social media such as Facebook or Twitter.
 
Much of the same effects of a face-to-face bully apply to cyberbullies. In fact, the main purpose of cyberbullying is to get the victim to lash out or “rage” back against the bully. Essentially, a cyberbully is looking to control the emotions and feelings of the victim. Success is gauged by being able to get the victim to feel anger or any other negative emotion.
 
The real danger of cyberbullying is the anonymity the bully can enjoy. Using temporary e-mail accounts or usernames, the cyberbully can behave in any way without the victim knowing his/her identity. In addition, cyberbullying takes less energy and thought to perpetrate the bullying behavior. This means that bullying is likely to continue for a long time unless the victim is able to deter the effects of the bullying, if not the bully’s behaviors themselves.
 
Protecting Kids and Family from Cyberbullying
 
The first step in protecting your kids and family from cyberbullying is learning to recognize it when it is happening. Unfortunately, the lean communication media of the Internet make it difficult to express emotion. Often, innocent comments in an e-mail or in a chat room are misinterpreted to be serious when joking, and joking when serious. Sarcasm, in particular, is difficult to convey when typing. Use the following checklist to recognize the warning signs of cyberbullying.
 
1. Comments are unsolicited.
2. The tone of the messages is often accusatory.
3. The number of messages is excessive.
4. There are often several e-mails from the bully each time you or a family member checks messages.
5. You have asked the bully to stop but he/she has not.
6. The messages or e-mails seem disconnected/they have no common theme other than to annoy.
7. Your kids or family are genuinely bothered by the bully.
8. You feel that your e-mail, chatting, etc. activities are less enjoyable because of the bully.
9. The thought of another message from the bully upsets your children or a family member.
10. The bully starts discussing inappropriate topics or uses excessive swearing or bad language in an attempt to shock the reader.
 
Not all of these warning signs may be present but these are the most common elements to look for when identifying cyberbullying. The next step after identifying the bullying is to put a stop to it.
 
One of the major reasons a bully behaves the way they do is because he/she feels out of control of something. The bully has learned that through their own behavior they can control the emotions and behavior of others. In this stimulus-response relationship, the bully is likely to continue the behavior as long as they are getting the desired response from the victim or victims.
 
One way to end the cycle is to cut off all communication with the bully. However, in the short term, this is unlikely to deter them. You have to tell your kids and family that they are under no circumstances to reply to the bully. This is likely to make the bully work even harder to get the response he/she is craving. The volume of messages and the intensity of the bullying is likely to increase during this time.
 
However, over a few days or weeks, bullies will often get bored and move on to other targets when the bullying behavior is no longer working. Sometimes, the bullying can become scary during this extinction phase. You may want to consider removing your kids’ or family’s online access until you have determined that the bullying has stopped.
 
Although not a Federal crime, there are several states and major cities that have made online harassment and cyberbullying a criminal offense. If the bullying is going too far or the messages start getting too personal, consider contacting the authorities about the issue. Even if your state or city doesn’t classify cyberbullying as a distinct crime, harassment of any kind can be investigated to stop the bully from continuing their criminal online behavior.


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