Cyberbullying can have deadly consequences for teens

Help your child avoid becoming a target of cyberbullying:

Part of growing up includes acquiring emotional aptitude and taking responsibility for how others are affected by our actions.

However, children and youth can be cruel to each other while they are maturing, as illustrated by the events leading up to the recent suicide of 15-year-old Amanda Todd in British Columbia.

Public concerns over bullying seem to rise and fall in the wake of bullying related tragedies reported in the media.

Todd’s suicide has received wide-spread interest largely because of the YouTube video she posted, which has been viewed millions of times, where she used flash cards to describe her experience of being bullied.

The video provides a glimpse of the torment some young people face for people who are normally insolated from such harsh interactions.

Also, much of the bullying occurred online and was easy for news agencies to find and report.

Cyberbullying occurs when the internet, including social networking sites such as Facebook, is used to taunt and harm others.

Online bullying is usually only part of a larger bullying campaign that victims face. So in many ways, it is an extension of the bullying that teachers, parents and police have always faced.

Alex Moore, author of A Parents Guide to Cyberstalking and Cyberbullying, said bullying can be much harder for parents to detect when it occurs in the virtual world.

“It is possible to monitor children’s online activity with a variety of parental control software and apps,” Moore said. “However, the products available tend to be costly and are not user friendly.”

It used to be easier to protect children from bullying.

She said youngsters’ time spent away from home was always the wildcard but once in the safety of the home, parents could make sure their children were safe from emotional abuse and threats of violence from their peers.

However, this is no longer the case as the increased reliance on digital communications erodes the home’s previous safe zone.

In the past, children’s behaviour was at least somewhat monitored in most of the places they frequented.

Moore said digital communications are largely unmonitored. Handheld computing devices are cheap and need only a widely available WiFi signal to access free social media sites. As well, there are no Facebook hall monitors or text message referees.

The ability of teachers and principles to monitor and discipline students only goes so far in the cyber world.

She said police say they need new legislation to help intervene and investigate cyberbullying in Canada.

However, police will not be able to intervene or prevent all cyberbullying cases regardless of the laws that are put in place. Many of them will be too subtle and fall within the parameters of any reasonable law.

It is ultimately the parents’ responsibility to make sure children are safe in cyberspaces. It is important for parents to have a strong relationship with their children and be able to notice when something is bothering them.

Moore said it is impossible to prevent all cyberbully attacks, but it is vital that children know they should speak out about cyberbullying when they see it happening.

“Teach your children safety and security measures … when it comes to interacting in social networks and online sites and advise them about the dangers of sharing too much personal information publicly, including photos, texts, tweets,” Moore said.

The community of people within most public spheres hold each other accountable for their actions. It is indeed necessary for any community to self-regulate.

However, young online communities struggle to maintain any sort of etiquette standard.

Moore said the internet’s anonymity allows some people to get away with behaviour they would not get away with in most communities, and children are often the targets of this normally unacceptable behaviour.

Youngsters are increasingly fulfilling their needs for social connections and affirmations of worth through digital mediums such as social networking sites.

However, she said children shouldn’t wander the internet unsupervised until parents know they have the skills to handle themselves.

Help your kids deal with cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a conscious, deliberate online attack by one person or group against another.

Help your child avoid becoming a target of cyberbullying:

  • Teach them to never post anything on the internet they wouldn’t want the world – including you – to read.
  • Talk to them about reaching out at the first sign of a threat, but don’t take for granted that your child will: only eight percent of teens who have been bullied online tell their parents about it.
  • Stay calm. Kids are reluctant to confide in their parents if they fear their parents will take away their internet or cellphone once they know what’s going on.
  • Teach your children to speak up if they notice others are being cyberbullied. Not reporting it is the same as approving it.

Teach your children what to do if they encounter an online bully:

  • Stop interacting with the bully. Leave the area or stop the activity (i.e. chat room, online game, instant messaging, social networking site, etc.).
  • Block the sender’s messages. Never reply to harassing messages.
  • Talk to an adult. If the bullying includes physical threats, tell the police as well.
  • Save any harassing messages and forward them to your internet service provider. Most service providers have appropriate use policies that restrict users from harassing others over the internet.


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