Online Safety Advice for Back to School

Mean kids target their peers by posting rumors on Facebook, embarrassing photos on Instagram and sending scathing texts. This is cyberbullying. Unfortunately, in today’s world, cyberbullying is on the rise with about 34 percent of students experiencing it during their lifetime.

Bullying is no longer restricted to just playgrounds, school buses and in neighborhoods. Instead of face-to-face interactions, bullies hide behind computer screens and phones to commit harassment, humiliation and threats. Because of fake profiles and anonymity, some kids don’t know exactly who their bully is.

As the school year begins, today it’s a good reminder to discuss online safety and cyberbullying with your children:

Silencing Cyberbullies

Wouldn’t it be cool if cyberbullying was made uncool? There are initiatives throughout the country that tackle cyberbullying as socially unacceptable. A 23-year-old from a rural Ohio town realized bullying was a problem in his town, so he set out to change the local culture by making a movie to submit to the NO BULL Challenge, a national organization that provides students a platform to develop and distribute materials about worrisome issues such as cyberbullying.

Tyler Gregory later became a spokesperson for the NO BULL Challenge and has spoken to about 45,000 students in 27 states at school assemblies. He will be remembered as someone who stood up to plate, a positive leader who promotes social change.

In June, AT&T launched a new education effort in New York City to help students, parents and educators tackle the cyber bullying crisis, highlighted by a film called “There’s a Soul Behind That Screen”.

Getting involved with initiatives such as these are great ways to educate yourself and your children about the crisis, how to best support a child who has been bullied, and warning signs for parents to look for. You might have a little leader on your hands.

Using Social Media & Phones in the Classroom

Teachers can’t be everywhere at once nor can they constantly monitor mobile and social media use by their students. That’s why cyberbullying is so insidious, because it’s occurring behind the backs of teachers and administrators.

Educators have to weigh the pros and cons of allowing social media as a teaching tool in their classrooms and within coursework. Cyberbullying won’t necessarily ensue, but teachers will need to implement certain rules and clear expectations for social media best practices, including

  • Accountability for what you say on social media
  • Spreading rumors will not be tolerated
  • Mentioning classmates, either explicitly or subtly, is not acceptable

Technology can enhance learning, but if phone use is dominated by entertainment and not learning, that’s a problem. Plus, victims and perpetrators of bullying will be more distracted by social media if it’s available to them in school. Do you know what your child’s classroom policies are when it comes to phone use?

Most schools today have anti-bullying programs and policies in place. Many states have bullying laws. If you don’t know what the laws are in your community and state, research them. Law enforcement may need to be contacted, too.

Parent Involvement

Kids often don’t want to talk about getting bullied because it’s embarrassing for them. They don’t want their parents to get angry or upset. They just want the problem to go away.

Three million kids per month miss school due to bullying and 20 percent of kids who are cyberbullied think about suicide; one in 10 attempt it. Parents often learn of the bullying after they see their child’s grades slipping, or missing school and complaining of stomach aches and seem overly-stressed. Some kids will come right out to their parents about the bullying they are experiencing.

Here are a few tips on what to do if you child is being bullied:

  • Listen calmly, offer comfort and support
  • Don’t tell them to retaliate or “suck it up.” The child shouldn’t engage with the bully, walk away instead
  • Let the school know – including a counselor, principal and teachers. They are charged with preventing future problems and monitoring the situation.
  • Reassure your child that you will figure out what to do about it together
  • Praise your child for doing the right thing by talking about it
  • Print all of the evidence of bullying

As Parry Aftab, leading expert in cyberlaw and privacy issues, has said, cyberbullying has intensified the experience of getting bullied by literally shattering the walls between school and home. It “follows you everywhere: home, summer camp, to grandma’s house,” she said.

Bullying and cyberbullying is a complex issue, the solution to which involves many parties. None of it happens in a vacuum, even if our cyber world seems like this endless space of anonymity.

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About Brooke Faulkner

Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two boys in the Pacific Northwest. Her boys both love online gaming, and she's lost many Nintendo matches to them over the years. To read more of her work, follow her @faulknercreek

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