From the moment Miami mom Rebecca Nachlas set out to build a safe social-media website for kids, she knew one thing: It absolutely had to be free of cyberbullies. That's because years ago—long before recent tragedies thrust the bullying problem into the national spotlight—she got a painfully close look at what happens when one child chooses to victimize another.
Not long after her daughter Sacha had begun kindergarten, the shy, eager-to-please 6-year-old's excitement turned to dread. “She would start worrying about school every morning, in the car,” says the mom of two. “Sacha would say, ‘I wonder what she's going to say to me today.’”
“She” was a classmate who'd begun making mean comments about Sacha, then convinced other little girls not to play with her. Without doing anything to cause it, Sacha had become one of the 24 percent of kids that studies say are bullied at school.
Nachlas, a personal-injury attorney, read up on bullying. She tried role-playing with her daughter, to teach her what to say and do when the insults began to fly. She called the other girl's mother. (“She said, ‘My daughter would never do that,’” Nachlas recalls.) She spoke to Sacha's teachers, got involved in the PTA, and urged the school to include anti-bullying workshops in the curriculum.
“I complained about my daughter's bully, but school officials said, ‘She's just a mean girl.’”
But as fall turned into winter, and winter into spring, the situation got physical: Sacha was tripped on the playground and stabbed in the back with a pencil. Nachlas threatened to pull her daughter out, and other parents started complaining about the same little girl. It wasn't until the school year ended that Sacha found relief. The girls were in different classes the next year.
Fast-forward six years: Sacha had grown into a happy, social seventh-grader, and Nachlas noticed that she'd become intrigued with social-media sites like MySpace and Facebook, even though she wasn't allowed to visit them. Unable to find a similar but child-friendly site, Nachlas decided to build one. She created a company, WishB (after Sacha's nickname, Wish, and that of her little brother, Beef), and hired a design and development team.
About 18 months later, the result is GlobWorld (Globworld.com), a 3-D environment where kids ages 6 to 12 are represented by puffy cartoon “globs.” Membership is free (though kids can buy certain decorations for nominal sums), and users can set up profiles and play games, stream music, or chat with or send messages to parent-approved buddies or Mom or Dad, since each account requires a parent-and-child pair.
Contacts are limited to a child's relatives and real-life pals. But because friends can sometimes turn into bullies, the site also uses a patent-pending technology to sniff out suspicious exchanges (for example, a rapid-fire bombardment of messages to a single address). If necessary, a human moderator will pass any incriminating words straight to the parents of the kids involved. “That makes it hard to say ‘My kid wouldn't do that,’” Nachlas notes wryly.
This past October, for National Bullying Prevention Month, the site produced and distributed to schools nationwide a PSA in which a cartoon newscaster with Jersey Shore hair breaks the news that “bullying is a thing of the past.” Some 13,000 trading cards featuring GlobWorld characters on one side and bullying factoids on the other were also distributed to schools across the country. “Teachers said the kids talked about them all day,” Nachlas says.
Today Nachlas is part of a team that's helping to draft an anti-bullying measure for the Florida legislature, and she anticipates testifying about bullying before state legislators in Tallahassee this year. GlobWorld has also partnered up with PACER, an organization for kids with disabilities that does a lot of anti-bullying work, and with the British group @BeatBullying. “They don't just have anti-bullying programs in the classrooms, they incorporate them into sports and music programs, too,” she says. “Hopefully, we can bring a little bit of that here, and bring some of what we're doing over there.” And Nachlas adds that her efforts are only just beginning: “My work in the legal field is my job, but GlobWorld is my passion.”
Amazing Anti-Bully Sites
Herotopia.com This free, Club Penguin—like social online game sneaks in lessons on topics like geography, history, and social interaction. Kids create an avatar and zap around colorful gathering spots based on various world capitals, occasionally tangling with Herotopia's archvillains, the Bully Bunch.
Kidsagainstbullying.com You'll find a great collection of cartoons, contests, and tips about how to handle harassment here. Kids with disabilities are amply represented.
Stopbullyingnow The webisodes posted on Stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov stand up to anything on Nickelodeon, and there are lots of pointers for both kids and parents.
Visit parenting.com/momcongress for more news on ways to make a difference in your child’s school.