Connecting the dots: A parent’s guide to recognizing cyberbullying

By Lynn Hargrove on November 15, 2012
Online security is a big concern for parents and for kids. Most Canadians now have security software installed on their PC’s to ensure that they’re safe from threats like online phishing, and poisoned search terms. Unfortunately, there are no security features that mitigate some of the risks our children face online. Technology allows our children to connect, socialize, and communicate more than ever before. Facebook, Twitter and other social networks sites are very popular hangouts for kids and just like the playground or practice fields, kids can be pretty cruel to one another on these platforms, as well as gaming sites and forums.

Beyond the dangers of cybersecurity and risks that we all face, there is a daily concern about cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to threaten, harass, or specifically target somebody online, most often among young adults. It’s not unusual for young adults to torment one another online by sharing everything from embarrassing photos, messages, and videos with their peers. These ugly acts can be really harmful ways to pick on kids and the effects can be severe.

Cyberbullying is a virtual act, but it is also a real one with serious consequences. What’s significant about online bullying is the scope. When somebody shares a compromising image of someone, it’s there for the world to see. And once something goes viral, it’s possible that it could never be taken down. Social media is also not restricted by school hours. These are networks that run 24 hours a day. As a result, victims have very little time to breathe or escape from constant online harassment that some face. Your kids may not understand how easily their actions online can be repurposed, misinterpreted, or manipulated. They should know the importance of their own messages and written words and how anything they send through online media could become available to the public.

Just like when children are victims of traditional bullying at school, it’s never easy to know who’s a victim online. There are, however, some telling signs you might notice. Signs of emotional distress, insecurity; the same kinds of red flags children might exhibit when dealing with offline harassment.  As a parent, it’s important to try and open lines of communication. Have a chat with your children about their own online and offline behaviour. If you’re aware of where they are spending their time online and the types of issues they are encountering, it can play a big part in having your kids confide in you. Ask your kids what sites they are visiting and what they do on them. Visit the sites and check to see if the sites are age appropriate.

As a parent, I think it’s crucial to let your child know that they are not alone or isolated in cyberbullying situations. You can also talk to your kids about what may be going on at school that might have carried over to the web. Work together to understand the events before deciding on the next course of action, which may involve contacting another child’s parents or the school. In the Norton Online Safety Guideline, we offer advice on how parents and children should deal with cyberbullying and how to respond.

We should also note that it’s just as easy for children to be participants in cyberbullying. By simply sharing an implicating image or text, your children could be contributing to a very harmful experience for one their peers. They need to know the impact their online behaviour can have on someone’s life when partaking or contributing by circulating negative information about someone on the web. We should be addressing both the culprits and the victims in these situations and make them understand how painful these actions can be and the consequences they carry.

Lynn Hargrove is the Director of Consumer Solutions for Symantec Canada

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