Last night Tom's daughter, Sue, came out of her room and said, "I got another one of those instant messages. It says, 'tomorrow you had better not show up at school or else'." She has been getting messages frequently. The result of this is that she no longer likes to turn her computer on.
Sue is 14 years old and in the 8th grade. She has been bullied at school for a number of years and she has had a difficult time getting the Principal and teachers to end it. Sue has two disadvantages that make her a target. First, she has always had a weight problem, not extremely heavy but overweight. Second, her last name is hard to pronounce. This has led to numerous ways to say and spell her name. Others have been very creative and cruel. Tom is aware that she needs to lose weight but what can he do about his last name...change it?
This should come as no surprise to anyone, but as technology changes so do the bullies. Bullying has gone wireless. These are situations our children face that we never did. How does this happen? The Internet, cell phones with text messaging, instant messaging, camera phones and e-mail are the bullies' new tools.
This is coming to a school near you if it hasn't already. The concerns involving cyber-bullying include:
Cyber-bullying can be much more damaging psychologically and can be much more intense.
It creates a barrier between the bully and the victim. This makes anyone who normally wouldn't be a bully now becomes a potential bully because there is no face-to-face contact. Smaller students have found a way to bully.
It is very difficult to catch the bully. When one is suspected or caught his or her defense is that it was someone else impersonating them or someone used my password.
Camera phones are making cyber-bullying more creative. They take a student's picture and then they manipulate the photo. Then it is posted on a website, e-mailed out, or posted on you-tube. Imagine getting an e-mail of a nude individual with your face attached to it, and you're only a teenager.
Parents must be awareMany kids, including Sue, do not want to report this problem to their parents for fear of how their parents may react. Many believe their parents will take away their cell phone, computer, or Internet access. This is an obvious solution to stopping the messages. Sue feels harassed by the bully and then punished by her parents when her equipment is removed. This is a double punishment for her. Parents should strongly consider removing an Internet connection from a child's bedroom. Internet connections need to be in a central location.
SolutionsAsk questions and act as if you're unfamiliar with the topic. For example, have you heard of anyone receiving improper messages on their phone? Does anyone use their camera phones for taking pictures of others who don't want their picture taken? Also, everything must be documented.
Text messaging When Sue receives an obscene message, threat, or abusive message on her phone we want to teach her to not respond. Your wireless provider should be notified.
Chat-rooms and instant messaging
She should never give out personal information.
She should not share her password.
If Sue receives inappropriate messages, have her disconnect or block the sender.
She should not respond to inappropriate messages. We do not want a dialogue to begin.
She should avoid giving out the name of her school.
No child should ever agree to meet anyone from a chat-room. That 17 year-old stud just may be a 53 year-old bald man with a potbelly.
E-mailOnce again, when Sue is sent an inappropriate email, she should not respond. Go to the source button to find out information on tracking where it was sent from. If it was sent from someone at school, then print the e-mail to use as proof. Sue's parents can contact the school or their service provider to see what options are available. If there are threats involved, then contacting the police is always an option.
Look into e-mail filters, creating folders for these e-mails, and spam software to block them. Whatever you choose, it will never be 100 percent perfect in blocking unwanted e-mails. Filters do not block cyber-bullying messages.
Handling the topic of cyber-bullying with your child before it becomes a problem will make it easier when and if it becomes a problem.