As October comes to a close I took a moment to look back at the month and recap everything I encountered during Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. I found myself surrounded by amazing programs to bring awareness and help end the tragic cycle of bullying in addition to new resources that are forever surfacing to help us all navigate this nasty epidemic.
The one area I most recently learned more about was Cyber bullying. I knew it existed and I knew the basics, but I did not realize the magnitude of the problem until I attended a seminar last week.
I was invited to attend a cyber bullying town hall event in Chicago last week and I sat in a room of students ranging in age from about 10 – 18. These students participated in a conversation about cyber bullying and the damage it can cause to an individual – both as the target and the bully. In questioning these kids, the moderator asked: How many of you have a cell phone? Nearly 90% of the room raised their hand. They were then asked how many of them had a social media account. Again, nearly 90% of them raised their hand. Finally she asked how many of them had encountered bullying online (either personally or a friend) and nearly 75% of the children in the room raised their hand.
Cyber bullying is an increasing concern due to the anonymous nature of the crime. Many states are beginning to recognize on-line, or cyber, bullying as a true crime that ends in legal ramifications for students who are the bully in addition to some instances of bystanding, or forwarding, a message you did not write.
So how do we protect our kids from this evolving danger of cyber bullying?
- We have to talk to your kids about the dangers of being online. The conversation must start early and it must be continuous.
- (a suggestion from a panelist at the seminar) – You have to know what your kids are doing online. Friend your children’s friends on social media, know the websites they visit and use, invest in controls to monitor your home internet…this does not mean to eliminate the use of all electronic media or put you in a position to “spy” on your children…but we need to be sure what they are engaging in is age appropriate and that they are using it responsibly.
- Limit screen time. If your child is utilizing electronic means to communicate with people more than his/her given social skills…there likely needs to be additional limits set.
- Create a parking lot for electronic devices in your home. Everyone that walks in the door “parks” their device in the “lot” when they arrive at your house. When the device is “parked” it cannot be used.
- Discuss how everything online is permanent. Once it is out there…it cannot be taken back. This could have severe ramifications on their ability to secure a job, a college placement or any other important position they might be working to achieve.
- Rule of thumb (offered by good a friend)…if you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see it or hear it…you shouldn’t post it, text it, tweet it or send it.
With all of that being said, this is a new arena that allows for our children to be harmed in long term ways we cannot even imagine, which is why it is so important to have the conversation and teach them good “digital citizenship” now. The world is only oving faster and we have to make sure your kids are prepared and confident in the changes that are constantly occurring around them.
We all know bullying is wrong. We all know that bullying hurts. We all know that we want bullying to stop. So how do we, as parents actually protect our children from this sometimes hostile environment in which they live? How do we teach them the skills they need to handle a bullying situation if it happened to them? How do we encourage them to stand up for others that are bullied? In my honest opinion I believe that all of these things can be accomplished with the start of a simple conversation and basic education on the topic at hand. So start your conversation with your children today. It could be one of the most important conversations you have and it might just save a life.
Jennifer DeFranco is a committed PTA leader and education advocate in Illinois and currently serves as the Membership/Marketing Director for the Illinois PTA. She also served as the 2010 Illinois delegate to the Parenting Magazine Mom Congress at Georgetown University and currently serves as a mentor for the 2011 delegation, presenting on bullying prevention. Additionally she serves as a trustee for the District 15 Educational Foundation, a soccer coach and Girl Scout leader. She is the mother of two outstanding elementary age children and a wife to an exceptionally wonderful husband. Connect with her on Twitter @JenDeFranco.