These days, it seems almost impossible that an American teenager could function, let alone thrive, without online access. No matter what your initial reservations about the dangers that await minors online, there’s no denying that hyper-connectivity is inevitable and that it’s impossible to control 100% of your child’s computer activity. Learn about Cybercrime Law & the Consequences of Bullying!
And as companies race each other toward newer and faster ways to communicate, the technology gap between kids and their parents threatens to widen ever so slightly. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and even WiFi-enabled watches have become the norm for many adolescents and teenagers, and with well-intentioned recollections of their own private phone calls, parents often hesitate to step in and monitor how these devices are used. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to lay the framework for responsible and self-aware behavior online.â€‹
- Prevent the accidents that lead to cybercrime law and oversharing
Discussing specific cybercrime laws with your children might open your eyes along with theirs; every year, lawmakers introduce new legislation in reaction to crimes that didn’t even exist a few decades ago. Not only could your kids be taking inadvertent risks – for instance, by sharing links to bootleg movie streams and taking a very expensive all for it – but they could also be victimized in subtle ways that you won’t recognize until it’s too late.
Their peers could be bullying them, for instance, or they could be developing a close online friendship with a predator masquerading as a peer. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to engage in an open, ongoing conversation about the nuances of cybercrime law, and about the dangers of everything from sharing a selfie to responding to a message from a supposed acquaintance on social media.
- Mobile devices are the cybercriminal’s favorite weapon
The instant rewards and immense reach of the Internet make it an unparalleled research and communication tool; getting an education and having a social life wouldn’t be the same without the billions of hubs that make up the world’s biggest database. Just as school subjects are easy to explore in great detail online, pictures and videos are now a cinch to share with family and friends, thanks to high-tech smartphones with capable data plans and faster, more powerful wireless networks.
Smartphone cameras keep getting better and better, and plenty of apps capitalize on the convenience of sharing on-the-go excerpts of your daily routine. This real-time, face-to-virtual-face intimacy is priceless for loved ones who live far apart – including parents who can check in on their college-age children via Skype – and for introverted kids who are bursting with the urge to find like-minded peers.
Many parents choose to focus on the positive of these exchanges, happy that their reserved child is finding a community in which he belongs, or thankful that their gossipy teenager is spending her nights texting instead of sneaking out or driving with inexperienced friends.
- Age is not just a number: remember that sexual cybercrime is black and white
Despite the apparent benefits, smartphones can be like quicksand for your growing children. Adolescents, still adjusting to their developing bodies and figuring out who they are as people, are especially prone to the ego trap that is the “selfie”. While there’s nothing criminal about youthful vanity and attempting to look attractive, there’s a line that absolutely cannot be crossed.
“Sexting” can be a healthy and even lighthearted form of expression for adults, but when teenagers do it, they walk a very fine line between youthful stupidity and child pornography. In March 2012, a new cybercrime law called the Cybercrime Youth Rescue Act took effect in New York. This keeps underage “sexting” participants from facing punitive action, especially over pictures of themselves, and instead sends them through a reform program to better emphasize the lifelong consequences of these poor decisions.
- Keeping an eye out for cyberbullies
As file-sharing and social media services like Twitter, Instagram, tumblr, and Snap Chat have earned universal appeal and gained communities of millions, they’ve begun to represent a more democratic forum in which teens can express themselves without fear of retribution.
But even if your child is constantly rattling off messages to his or her friends, that doesn’t mean it’s harmless behavior. Because screens and keyboards create a form of emotional distance, kids find it much easier to say and spread vicious comments about one another online than they do in person. Ironically, the instant, constant pace of online trends and interactions render these comments more permanent than they ever would have been otherwise, lasting long beyond a passed note or hallway whisper would have.
In 2000 – just after all the Y2K paranoia demonized still-emerging computer technology – a sixteen-year-old Miami boy made history by hacking into NASA and the Defense Department’s internal computer systems. Because of the federal nature of his crimes, officials including the U.S. Attorney General took advantage of the opportunity to send a message to would-be hackers; according to the New York Times, James became the very first minor to serve time for cybercrime. He was charged with $40,000 worth of damage, after intercepting messages and private data, downloading software, stealing data, and shutting down some computers for up to three weeks.
Fourteen years later, online security is a multi-billion-dollar industry that won’t bow so easily to clever high school students; while cybercrime is still rampant in the form of fraud and far more serious human rights violations, it’s not nearly as easy to exploit – or even find – flaws in high-security databases. “Hacking” is actually a legitimate career now, at least for experts who work from within computer systems to identify any weaknesses and patch up glaring holes and glitches that leave room for criminal activity.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about your tech-savvy teen, especially if she’s always been too brilliant for her own good. Curiosity can get the best of anyone, and when illegal habits like pirating movies are so commonplace, teenagers tend to disassociate from the possible legal repercussions. Emphasize the fact that the more advanced technology gets, the more transparent it is, and the easier it is to get caught when you’re doing something questionable online.
- Justice for victims of cybercrime: reasons to report right away
Even when children are open with their parents about the toll that cyberbullying is taking on their self-confidence, it’s rare that either party will go to authorities. Unaware that both preventative and punitive legislation exists, parents assume that school districts can handle a conflict between two students. Sadly, it’s not until the worst-case scenarios — teenage suicides that reveal online trails of abusive, relentless bullying — that anyone seeks legal justice for these crimes.
If your child is reluctant to report an ongoing bullying situation, it’s for understandable reasons. If they don’t feel protected now, what’s to say they won’t be punished ten times worse after they’re branded a “rat” or a “tattletale”? It’s very, very important to emphasize that extreme bulling isn’t just a personal slight; it’s criminal behavior that will continue, and will get even worse if the bully isn’t held accountable. Remind them that prevention, not punishment, is the goal.
- How reporting cyberbullying can reveal even more severe abuse
Sensitive kids might even understand that exposing a peer’s abusive behavior could actually be a compassionate act. In disclosing this behavior before it escalates into physical violence, you’re giving the offender an opportunity to avoid harsher punishment in the future. However, there’s another huge reason to never, ever ignore a child’s abusive behavior: it’s a red flag that could indicate much more serious abuse.
Just as many parents don’t realize their children are bullied, many don’t know or refuse to accept that their children are the ones doing the bullying. In the best-case scenario, this would simply be a sign of parental delusion, in which a mother or father wants to believe the best about their child. But sadly, the more common reason is much more grave. Parents are much more likely to overlook patterns of abusive behavior and violent personalities if (a) that’s the norm in their household or (b) they’re not around their children enough to notice it.
- Bullies are often victims too; answer the cry for help
Bullying — especially cyberbullying, which follows the victims home but also occupies the bullies’ free time, distracting them from their surroundings — is often a sign of family problems. According to cyberbullying statistics from the Bureau of Justice, increasing rates of domestic violence in certain communities, as well as nationally, correlate directly with a recent rise in the frequency and intensity of cyberbullying.
If your child comes home dejected and broken-hearted because of relentless pressure and taunts from other children, the first thing you should do is to make sure the phone stays out of the bedroom. You don’t have to monitor every second of your child’s online activity in order to prevent them from receiving text messages and social media notifications 24 hours a day.
Your next and wisest step should be to offer them a lesson in true compassion. While it may not offer immediate relief from their school-related problems, it will stick with them for a long time and shape the way they approach future conflicts, whether that means refusing to engage in a violent bar fight years later or just learning how to “kill with kindness” and have the upper hand in business negotiations when they’re adults.
Explain to your children that the old adage isn’t just lip service: when someone attacks your reputation or makes extra effort to make you feel bad about yourself, that person is projecting. When it comes to cyberbullying — and its increasing severity among high school- and college-aged social groups — show your children that the best weapon against it is self-empowerment.
Teach them to embrace what makes them “weird” or different from their classmates; not only will they eventually develop a thicker skin, realizing there’s little value to the taunts, but they will also be more likely to turn down the opposite path in the future.
Just as bullies often come from lifestyles and households with violence and mean-spirited interactions, their own victims become more likely to lash out in the future, in order to re-frame the narrative and step into the more powerful role for once. When an adolescent is self-aware from a very early age — and understands both the legal consequences and the unfortunate causes of abusive behavior — then they’re on the right track to becoming a peaceful, productive, and confident adult who can’t be shaped by pixels’ worth of petty insults. They’re also much less likely to take or send graphic content that they can never take back; in fact, the next generation just might be the best equipped to avoid some of the mistakes that are teaching us so many lessons right now.