Cyberbullying is when kids use the Internet to harass, intimidate, embarrass, or demean others. Cyberbullies may post embarrassing information or pictures on Web pages, trick kids into giving out personal information on instant messenger, send threatening or cruel messages, or impersonate somebody else to send mean or embarrassing messages. They can even send harassing text messages to a victim's mobile phone.
Kids who might never be mean in the real world sometimes bully online because of the feeling of anonymity that the Internet gives them. But even if they can't see the people they are hurting, cyberbullies do real damage. Victims can suffer from low self-esteem, fall behind in school work, or become anxious, depressed, and even suicidal.
Many kids are reluctant to tell an adult if they are being bullied online. However, if you know or suspect your child is the victim of cyberbullying, there are steps you can take to stop it.
Teach your children to respect the feelings of others: The best way to combat cyberbullying is to prevent it from ever happening. Teach your children that their online actions have real-world consequences and can really hurt people. The author and educator Rachel Simmons provides talking points on her blog that you can discuss with your child.
Know what your child is doing online: Cyberbullying is allowed to go on because it takes place in a private online world that teenagers have created. Keep the computer in a central location in the house, and monitor your child's online activities. If your child seems upset after being online, he may be the victim of cyberbullying.
Trace threatening emails or text messages: If your child receives threatening or harassing emails, save them as evidence. Forward them to abuse@<domain name of provider> (the domain name follows the @ sign in the cyberbully's email address), and request that the cyberbully's account be terminated. If the harassment is by phone text message, contact your phone company to trace the sender. If the threats are severe enough, contact your local police for help.
Have offensive Web sites removed: If threats or offensive comments about your child are being posted on a Web site, you can contact the hosting company to request that the site be taken down. You can find the host of the Web site by going to Whois.net and typing in the Web site address.
Contact your child's school: Schools can do little to stop cyberbullying since it usually takes place off school grounds. However, the school may be able to provide counseling or mediation between your child and the cyberbully if they attend the same school.
Talk to your children about cyberbullying: Teach your children that they can come to you with any problems they are having with cyberbullies. Make sure that they understand that you will not take away their Internet privileges, since this fear keeps many kids from reporting cyberbullying.
- Email filter: Set your child's email account to send all messages from a cyberbully to a specific folder. That way you can save them as evidence without them going to your child's inbox.
Block the IM accounts of cyberbullies: If cyberbullying is occurring over IM, you can stop the harasser from contacting you. In many IM clients, you can block a user by clicking the Block button in the chat window.
- Email tracking software: Cyberbullies are often able to remain anonymous because they can hide behind an email address. Software such as eMailTrackerPro can trace the computer that an email came from and automatically report harassing emails to the cyberbully's ISP.
You may be able to sue a cyberbully or the bully's parents for damages if you can prove defamation, invasion of privacy, or intentional inf liction of emotional distress. Damages can include money spent on counseling, limited college opportunities due to failing grades, etc.
If cyberbullying becomes severe and involves threats of violence, you should contact the police immediately. Some states have computer harassment laws to prosecute offenders.
Many teenagers have online diaries, called blogs, where they post information about their lives. Bullies can sometimes use this information to harass their victims. Make sure your child understands that these blogs are not private and are visible to anybody online. Also, make sure that your child does not post any personal contact information on a blog or online profile.