The hardest problems facing children should be the ones that they find on their math tests. Unfortunately, for many, their academic challenges are nothing compared to their social struggles: nearly one in three U.S. students reports experiencing bullying, according to StopBullying.gov. Yet bullying doesn’t just stop in school. In fact, the NFL was recently rocked by a scandal when retired Miami Dolphins lineman Jonathan Martin reported he was “suicidal” as a result of the bullying he experienced on his team. The 6’5”, 300+ pound retired lineman’s story offers a powerful example of the way that bullying can affect people of all ages, races, and physical strength.
One of our core beliefs at LegalShield is all people deserve to feel safe and protected wherever they are, from their home to their school to their workplace,” said Jeff Bell, CEO of LegalShield. Sadly, the internet empowers bullies to escalate their harassment exponentially.
Social media can be a particularly problematic form of “cyberbullying,” which Dr. Sameer Hinduja, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University and Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, defines as “a unique form of digital abuse that involves a range of tormenting, humiliating, threatening, embarrassing and harassing behaviors.”
Hinduja recently received a $188,000 grant from Facebook to conduct the first national study of cyberbullying and electronic dating violence in America.“For parents, it is critical to understand how serious bullying can be in the life of a child. More importantly, they need to understand their children’s rights and what they can do to protect them from bullies,” said Bell.
Tips for Talking to Your Kids
- Be aware of what their kids are doing online. This includes reviewing their online communications, knowing their passwords, and “friending” or “following” their various social media account.
- Establish rules about the appropriate use of computers, cell phones, and other technology. For example, be clear about what sites they can visit and what they are permitted to do when they’re online.
- Reinforce those rules and model good behavior. Show your children how to be safe online, including logging into their account with them to talk about what to do and not to do, can be very effective techniques.
Tips for Protecting Your Family
Cyberbullying presents a threat to your child’s emotional and social wellbeing. It is important to recognize that cyberbullying is not simply ‘kids being kids’ but rather represents a real danger with extreme consequences for both the bullies, the bullied, and parents.
Here are several steps to take that can protect your family:
Safety Starts at Home – No one wants their child to be bullied, but you also need to ensure that your own child is not bullying others. Ask your child about what they do online, and describe a few scenarios (e.g., “If you don’t like someone, do you think it is OK to talk about them on Facebook?”). It is important to avoid appearing accusatory; try to enter the conversation with a genuine interest in their opinions. Ask them if they know what bullying is on the playground, and build from there to discuss what bullying looks like on the Internet and in social media. This is not only important to protect others from your children’s possible bullying, but you may be legally liable for the actions of your child if they are a bully.
Identify Problems – Identifying cyberbullying is particularly difficult for teens who might be more tech-savvy than their parents and more reluctant to share the details of their social life. Talk to your kids about their online activities and what to do if they are bullied online. Also, look out for warning signs, such as unwillingness to discuss online activities, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, weight change, and withdrawing from school or social activities.
Understand the Methods – Cyberbullies may use some or all of these methods, which include:o Harassment – Repeatedly sending threats or other offensive material to one or more victims is harassment. Harassment may involve cyberstalking, where the bully locates email accounts, home addresses, and phone numbers they can use to threaten or harass victims.
- Flaming – Flaming is the act of taunting the victim to respond. This is often done publicly to shame the victim for cowardice if they fail to respond or further mock them if they do.
- Exclusion – Exclusion is the act of blocking or freezing someone out of a social group. For many teens, this act can be very traumatic. Other types of harassment may spring out of exclusion.o Impersonation (a.k.a. Masquerading) – Bullies often use false or misleading online identities to post hurtful information on message boards or social networks. They may use fake email addresses or user accounts to send messages after a previous account is blocked.
- Outing – Outing involves the bully publishing personal or private details about the victim publicly or within a social circle. This can be anything from a personal secret to explicit photographs. Bullies may even pose as a love interest in order to provoke the victim into sharing embarrassing personal information. Once shared online, information may spread quickly throughout the teen’s school and social circle.
Ignore the Bully – Avoid engaging directly with the bully to stop the behavior. Someone engaged in online bullying is unlikely to be swayed by reason. Cyberbullies crave a response to taunts and insults. Teach your kids that responding in any way will open the floodgates for additional bullying. In some cases, ignoring the behavior may cut things off before they get worse.
Save Evidence – Saving evidence of abuse and bullying will help you report the issue to the necessary parties. Save emails, images, and chat records. Take screenshots of things posted online so the bully cannot delete them in an effort to cover his or her tracks.
Report Bullying – If the perpetrator is a minor, you may try reaching out to a parent or guardian to intervene in the matter. Many parents are surprised to learn that their children are bullying and will help intervene. If the bully attends your child’s school, discuss the matter with an administrator or counselor. Some schools have guidelines for dealing with cyberbullies and preventing escalation. File formal complaints with websites and the phone and Internet providers to block the bully. In many cases, the terms of service prohibit harassment and the bully may be banned from the site or blocked by his or her Internet service provider.
Report Illegal Behavior to the Police – While cyberbullying is relatively new and the law has not always been quick to respond, some localities have established laws to penalize cyberbullies. Threats of violence and the posting of pornographic images, particularly those involving minors, are against the law and should be immediately reported to the authorities.
Call your attorney if the situation persists. Your lawyer can send a letter to the school and/or to the parents of the other child. In extreme cases, if necessary, they can also file documents such as harassment restraining orders to help protect the victims.
Cyberbullying is a relatively new area of the law, and each state approaches it differently. Check out how a LegalShield membership can help you to understand the laws in your state.
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