Cyber Safety, If one were to sum up ways to completely prevent cyber bullying in a short phrase it would be “don’t go online.”
Except in today’s world, that’s almost an impossible task, as people, especially teens, are constantly plugged in to their phones, tablets or a laptop. They socialize with their friends through texting and online social networking. They play games in their leisure time. They do their homework assignments and all their research on their computers, and many classes even require students to upload their assignments or participate in online class forums with their classmates and teachers.
So unless your teen and their world is equipped to give that all up entirely, such as if you live in a community with limited Internet bandwidth or a teacher who requires all work to be handwritten and all research done in the library, not laptops, a better solution is needed for Cyber Safety.
Even the general admonishment “be careful online” isn’t specific enough to guard against the possible sources of cyberbullying. Studying the documented cases over the years, the motivations for it are across the board, just like other crimes against people.
It could be a crime of opportunity, where the perpetrator, perhaps an active predator, runs across or gains access to unguarded personal information and decides he or she has found a likely victim.
It could be more personal, where someone with a grudge against someone else consciously decides to initiate a negative campaign against them. Perhaps a spurned ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend decides to seek revenge for a slight, or a computer-savvy classmate who has been hurt for some reason.
Or it could be something in between – maybe a fellow student who doesn’t necessarily have active malice toward someone but notices someone who appears vulnerable and has the urge to bully.
And actually, once cyberbullying begins, motivation of the instigator isn’t necessarily relevant, except when law enforcement or other authorities become involved and start trying to figure out the situation.
What’s more important is trying to limit access to possible victims. Being careful is a good place to start but it does require some more specific actions to truly conceal yourself.
Here are some mistakes that can be made in your goal of cyber safety.
Cyber Safety Mistake #1 Don’t share passwords. Though this seems like a basic to longtime computer security experts, it’s not necessarily that clear to teens or even pre-teens. According to “Ask Marian,” a blog by Norton’s Internet Safety Advocate, 75 percent of 8-9 year old children in a WiredSafety study were found to have shared a password at least once.
This is the equivalent of giving your house key to anyone who asks for it or leaving it in plain view. The door will still be locked to others, but whoever you permit access to will be able to go behind the scenes and learn whatever personal information you have inputted.
This can be for Internet game passwords, where you have to register to start playing, and it can be for social networks, where you have even more personal info.
Having access to someone’s password and profile can, in some cases, give you access to any payment system that may be associated with that particular account, like your PayPal or credit card billing info.
Cyber Safety Mistake #2 Sharing your school location. This is a big giveaway and an easy cyber safety mistake to make, especially since pretty much every social networking site asks for some sort of education component when creating your online profile.
For adult users, this sort of info is a handy tool for networking – you can compare notes about someone’s educational background, find some common ground in where you went to school or look up an old classmate.
But for kids, especially for those who want to cause trouble, it could lead to identifying someone and figuring out ways to violate their cyber safety. Even if you someone doesn’t necessarily go to that school, they could still have friends there who can come into contact with a potential victim.
Someone could also use school info to try to find more details about a possible victim, including where they live.
Cyber Safety Mistake #3 Sharing your phone number: Knowing a phone number can lead to texting. Along with possible expense with receiving texts, someone can send a lot of them. It could also lead to calls at all hours, sending inappropriate photos or invitations to send.
Cyber Safety Mistake #4 Sharing Your street address: It’s one thing to share a hometown or region, but including your full street address could be troublesome. It could lead people actually coming to your house, moving cyber bullying quickly to actual bullying. Not having an address lets someone be as anonymous as they want to be.
Cyber Safety Mistake #5 Deleting activity: If you’re serious about putting an end to possible cyber bullying that’s occurring, it’s important to keep all messages as potential criminal evidence. Even though you or your child’s first impulse is to delete harassing, painful messages, photos or emails, it’s important to hang onto them on your PC or laptop for if or when law enforcement or school officials may request documentation.
This PC paper trail can include everything from when the bullying started, how it has progressed to who is doing it – in some cases, it’s not just one bully and one victim, but could be several people bullying one person, or one person bullying several people.
Cyber Safety Mistake #6 Overreacting: Dr. Elizabeth Englander, a professor of psychology and director of the Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, said parents should react properly to a threat against their child. But she said it’s very easy to overreact, which can sometimes make a problem worse.
For instance, she said parents defending their child could send their own sets of threatening notes to the original bully demanding that he or she stop what they’re doing. This is also a form of cyberbullying even if it doesn’t fit the traditionally common teen vs. teen format.
Here, Englander said parents can also become overly aggressive with school officials to take action quickly; even if a particular school has to follow certain legal protocols to offer every student full due process and respect the privacy of subjects of investigations.
She said that cyberbullying – at least in its early stages – can end up being a teachable opportunity to victims and perpetrators. Possible cyber bullies can learn the powerful emotional and mental damage that can be done to someone who they are bullying – victims may see their grades suffer, many of their relationships come apart, and even their home lives suffering. A bully may very well think they weren’t out to hurt someone, just to “mess with them a little.”
Victims can learn everything from how to stand up for oneself, what resources exist to help, or even a strong lesson about keeping confidential information confidential next time you use the laptop or PC online. It’s a painful lesson for sure, but one that will doubtfully be repeated.
Cyber Safety Mistake #7 Ignoring it. Children’s Hospital in Boston suggests that bullying is an opportunity for parents to learn more about their children’s lives and help if they’re asked to. In some cases, parents may not be aware that their child may either be bullying others or the subject of bullying. Here, it’s suggested that parents can help create an atmosphere of respect, so their son or daughter may not have the urges to bully a classmate or co-worker.
While your child may not know what to do if cyber bullying starts against them, they’ll appreciate having you at their back whatever the outcome.
Overall, trust is important. Victims need to share what’s happening with family members, even if the bullying is mean, cruel or embarrassing. One of the worst things is if a teen has to feel like they’re battling the bully themselves.
Is Bullying the same as Teasing? Learn all about it! Spread the word about Cyber Safety!