Cyberbullying: Online and Vulnerable
Along with all the advantages of today’s unprecedented level of interconnectivity, comes certain dangers. We live in a world of instant communication and access - on the Internet, news (especially bad news) travels extremely fast and often spreads far and wide before anything can be done to control it. For children and teens, this instant and pervasive accessibility can cause serious problems. Kids are capable of instigating rumors and threats that can lead other kids into a state of complete despair.
We’ve all seen the news stories about kids being victimized by cyberbullying, and all too often it has led to children taking their own lives. And rather than being a few isolated incidents in a handful of countries, cyberbullying appears to have become a full-fledged epidemic, with increasing occurrences around the globe. In fact, some studies have found that more than forty percent of all teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying and one in four teens have reported it happening to themselves more than once.
These are alarming statistics, given the fact that cyberbullying can actually kill. Teens are emotional creatures, and often can have a difficult time seeing a way out of a negatively-impacting social dilemma. Many teens are afraid to report incidents of bullying to their parents or school authorities, because they fear further recrimination from the bullies who torment them. These situations can quickly escalate into a feeling of utter despair in which the teen feels trapped and with no way out.
It is just these sort of feelings that have driven so many teens in various cities and towns around the world to put an end to their lives. And many times, parents and teachers had no idea that anything was wrong until it was too late. These incidents occur at all strata of society - affluence or poverty seem to have little bearing on who is affected. In these times, almost all kids - rich or poor - have smartphones or tablets, and social networking is one of the main tools used to stay in touch and for sharing information.
Instant Communication Dangers
The old adage “bad news travels fast” is particularly applicable in the cyber age. And bad news not only travels fast, it can be spread far and wide in a very short time. One of the dangers of cyberbullying is the fact that rumors, embarrassing info or incriminating videos and photos can be disseminated extremely rapidly to a very large audience.
This “instant” aspect of the web is part of what can make cyberbullying so threatening. No longer is bullying contained to badmouthing and rumor-spreading among a few peers - cyberbullying can involve hundreds or even thousands of witnesses or participants. It’s sometimes hard for us who grew up in the era before online social networking became so pervasive to understand the potential and scope of what can happen online in a matter of hours or even minutes.
Cyberbullying can take many forms. Often it may just be rumors spread on Facebook, but there are some very sophisticated and devious tactics being used these days. Parents need to be aware of the fact that tech-savvy teens who wish to torment others have a wide choice of means to do so at their disposal. Here are just a few of the frightening methods modern cyberbullies use to intimidate and torture their victims:
Ratting involves installing a malicious app into someone’s computer that allows a hacker to spy on a victim through the computer’s webcam. The images or videos taken surreptitiously can then be used to embarrass or blackmail an unwitting teen. This may sound like advanced hacking techniques to non-tech-savvy parents, but many kids possess the skills to accomplish these types of attacks on privacy.
2) Fake Profiles
It’s relatively easy to create a fake social media profile. All one needs is a name and a photo with which a social media profile, such as those on Facebook or Twitter, can be created. A bully posing as another person can create a false profile that is designed to ridicule or embarrass a person by fooling others into thinking the profile was actually created by the victim.
3) Digital Pile-Ons
A digital pile-on is simply a group of people ganging up on a social networking platform, such as Facebook, to make mean-spirited comments about a person. One individual starts the pile-on, then others jump in to escalate the situation. This is one of the more common forms cyberbullying takes.
What Can Parents Do to Protect Their Children Against Cyberbullying?
The above tactics are just a sampling of the ways kids can use the Internet to make another kid’s life miserable. Parents should first become aware of just how pervasive and powerful cyberbullying has become. It’s not an isolated phenomenon, it’s an everyday reality for most teens. Even if they are not instigators or victims themselves, it’s very likely that they are aware of others who are involved in this behavior, whether on the receiving end or as perpetrators, or both.
Parents and children both need to be educated on the dangers of cyberbullying and the means of fighting against it. Many schools now offer seminars on the issue, and parents should make an effort to attend these or at least spend some time investigating on their own how to deal with and prevent cyberbully attacks against their own kids.
Discuss the Issue With Your Kids
It’s important that your children know that you are aware of the potential of cyberbullying and that you are there to support them against any such attacks. Let your kids know that they won’t be punished for coming forward with any information concerning such attacks, even if the information is embarrassing or contains intimate details of your child’s private social life. Let them know that you are there to support them, no matter how bad things might seem.
Manage Your Child’s Online Activities
Make sure that you have control over your child’s online activities and be sure to monitor their interactions carefully. You should be the administrator of their smartphones, tablets, laptops and PC’s - make sure that you know their passwords to social networking sites.
You have the right and responsibility to manage and monitor your child’s online behavior. The level of trust and autonomy your child has should be earned - you don’t need to pry into every corner of their online activity, but it’s important that you have a clear picture of their general behavior online and a good idea of who they are interacting with.
Use a Phone Monitoring App to Protect Your Child
One of the most effective ways to monitor your child’s online activity is to install smartphone monitoring software - sometimes called “spy phone apps”. These mobile spyware apps allow you to view everything that occurs on the targeted phone or tablet, including GPS location. These phone spy apps are very useful tools for keeping an eye on what your teen is sharing, who they are talking to and where they are spending their time.
These apps are easy to install and use, and are completely undetectable to the user of the phone. So it’s up to the parent whether or not the child has knowledge of their being monitored. These mobile spy apps are becoming very popular among parents who are concerned about cyberbullying, as well as the many other potential threats kids are exposed to online.