Stopping Cyber Bullies

In the technological age the tables have turned, and it is much more difficult for parents to protect their children from bullying. The new bully on the block is faceless and nameless - anyone with access to a computer or cell phone. Unfortunately, many parents are uninformed about this new trend and don't know how to respond to "cyber bullying" and its devastating emotional effects. After all, bloody noses and black eyes are much easier to nurture than emotional wounds, but there are ways for parents to help their children overcome the effects.

What is Cyber Bullying? Cyber bullying takes on many forms. There are websites ("online slambooks") on which people post hurtful messages and pictures about a person. Mean or threatening e-mails and text messages are other methods. One of the most popular forms is faking an identity through e-mail or social networking (such as Facebook or MySpace), using it to gain the confidence of an unsuspecting person, discovering personal information about him or her, and then posting it online.

Emotional Effects The most publicized cyber bullying incident to date is the Megan Meier case. In this instance, thirteen-year-old Megan was contacted by a boy named Josh Evans a few days after setting up a MySpace account. She became close online friends with this boy. However, a few months later, the messages took on a hurtful tone. The last message he indicated that "the world would be a better place" without her, and she took her life that same day. It was later discovered that a neighbor and her mother, Lori Drew*, had created the persona of Josh Evans and had used the account to punish Megan for gossiping.

Cyber bullying is often more damaging than verbal or physical bullying. Unlike traditional bullying, it can continue 24/7 because there is no "school day" for a website. Also, the messages are often posted for anyone to see. Anonymity shields cyber bullies from punishment, and unlike face-to-face bullying, where one can see the effects and possibly feel some remorse, cyber bullying cuts off the perpetrator from the consequences. Because there is rarely any feedback, the bully can participate without feeling as though he or she has done any harm.

Cyber Bullying and Your Child To help prevent your child experiencing this trouble, consider these signs, which researchers have found cyber-bullied children and teens to show: If your child consistently seems upset or anxious after using a cell phone or computer, he or she is most likely a victim. Other signs include avoiding friends, school, and activities.

Helping your child respond well to such acts can be a difficult process. Parents may find the following options valuable:

Have Internet guidelines. Websites such as Facebook and MySpace can be a great way to keep in touch with friends, but think hard about whether your child should set up an account. You might tell your child that he or she can set up an account if you know the password. There are also web-monitoring programs which can track your child's computer activities and conversations.

Don't ignore it. For years children have been told that ignoring the bully will make him or her stop, but Dr. Susan Lipkins, a bullying specialist, reports that 50 percent of the time the bully will stop when told to. Suggest that your child send the bully an assertive message telling him or her to stop.

Keep the messages. This may sound odd, but if the bullying gets to the point where you are going to press charges or alert the school authorities, you are going to need proof. This includes text messages, e-mails, websites, and instant message records.

Although you should keep the messages, don't leave them in your child's inbox. If the offense is an e-mail or instant message, forward it to your e-mail address or take a screen shot (a picture of the computer screen) by pressing the "Prt Scr" or "Print Screen" key (usually found at the top right of a keyboard); paste it into a blank document. Text messages can be forwarded to your phone, but make a note of the bully's phone number before deleting the message from your child's phone.

Report the bully. If the bullying continues after your child tells the bully to stop, take the next step, whether by filing a complaint to a website director or the school. Cyber bullying is generally a direct violation of the terms of use of a website. You can usually alert the bully's behavior to the website director by going to the "help" section of the site and searching for "report." Typically the bully will be suspended from the site for a certain amount of time.

If bullying is done through the district Internet system, contacting school authorities might be your best option. A school has the ability to give formal discipline to a child and contact the child's parents.

More information on these and other useful tips can be found at stopcyberbullying.org.

Above all, be open with and supportive of your son or daughter. Ask questions and foster a trusting relationship through understanding and guidance.

*In the first ever U.S. federal cyber-bullying case, Drew was convicted for felony conspiracy and three counts of misdemeanor unauthorized computer access. A federal judge has since dismissed the case, acquitting Drew of all charges.

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