Technology has helped us in many ways to make life easier and provide us with more luxuries and forms of entertainment – and particularly in the realm of communication it has revolutionised the way we speak with one another, send messages and spread news. However like anything, the advent of more connectivity and easier communication is something of a ‘double-edged blade’ and is not without its drawbacks. There are always people out there who will abuse these new technologies and use them for bad ends.
One example of this is the advent of a new form of bullying, often called ‘cyberbullying’ which involves people being bullied from the very comfort of their own home and 24 hours a day – sometimes by people they’ve never met before. For parents this can be highly distressing and for those on the receiving end it can feel like the ultimate violation and humiliation. Understanding cyberbullying then is very important, as is learning ways to counter and deal with it.
How Cyberbullying Works
‘Real’ bullying is often not physical and it can sometimes be the psychological aspects of being bullied that are the most hurtful and upsetting. Sometimes this will be focussed on a loss of ‘face’ for the victim and the bully will aim to make them feel small in front of their friends and others.
The internet perfectly facilitates this as it allows people to insult others namelessly and at any time. At the same time thanks to social networking sites this can be done in front of all the victim’s peers. If someone posts a picture of themselves on Facebook for instance then it will be highly easy for the person to comment on it and write hurtful things and that way everyone who knows either party will see it on their ‘homefeed’. At the same time a bully could message the person’s friends, or comment on an exchange that they are not a part of. Alternatively through MSN they can bombard the victim with abuse and can provoke them with no means of attack. More malicious methods of bullying might involve ‘tricking’ the victim into thinking they are talking to someone else and then humiliating them with the exchange later, impersonating the person by using their accounts, or editing photos and images to make the victim look bad.
Steps You Can Take
As a parent this is highly upsetting but of course there are steps you can take to make it more difficult for the bullies and you should always be sure to monitor a child’s use of the internet. Following are some steps you can take.
1. Tell Your Child Not to Give Out Their E-mail Address
This is very important as it will mean they can’t be contacted through that means (or on MSN) by anyone other than the people that they have chosen to communicate with. Explain to them the importance of contact information and how easily it can be abused so that they only give it out to people they trust implicitly.
2. Keep Their Setting Private
On Facebook you have a range of ‘security settings’ which dictates who can see your profile and your information. By keeping the privacy settings at their highest, only previously accepted friends will be able to comment on pictures and comments and other people won’t even be able to find you by searching. If you put these settings on your child’s profile then they can have the same selectiveness when adding friends as apply to giving out their e-mail. It’s equally important though that their friends do the same thing too, otherwise the bullies will still be able to comment on pictures that their friends have ‘tagged’ them in etc.
3. Report the Person to Facebook
If you report someone to Facebook they can be banned and this is a serious blow for a lot of young people who now conduct practically their entire social life through the website. If their profile is banned they’ll lose all their contacts and their picture and they’ll likely think twice about doing it again.
4. Don’t Accept Contact From Strangers
Whether on MSN, Facebook, Twitter or anything else, tell your child not to accept messages or friend requests from anyone they don’t know. There are many other reasons to do this too and it will help keep your children safe from data theft and ‘grooming’ too.
5. Inform the School
Informing the school is very important if they have a problem with cyberbullying. If your child is suffering then there is a good chance that others are too and by informing the school you can protect all of these children. This way the parents can reprimand or name and shame those responsible to bring it into the ‘real world’ and can also warn the classes about how to protect themselves and inform them of the dangers of the internet.
6. Block Trouble Makers
Blocking ‘trouble makers’ is a great way to stop them from being able to contact you. E-mails can be blocked by adding the senders to the ‘spam list’ and you can completely block people from contacting you via messages and things. If they also refuse contact from people they don’t know then there will be no way for anyone to contact them who they don’t want to.
7. Use a Pseudonym
The bullies use their anonymity online as a weapon, but likewise you can use it as a defence. Get your children to avoid using their personal details when they’re online and to use names like ‘JumpingMonkey12’ instead and this will make them much more difficult to find, and at the same time will mean that their personal details are safe from others using them.
8. Avoid Tagging Everything
Tagging in photos is a great part of Facebook and a large part of what has made it such a success. However at the same time it also makes you susceptible to attack and can get you into trouble. Tell your children then that they don’t need to be tagged in everything and that they should remove themselves from photos they don’t want online.