Protect Your Kids from the new Cyber-BulliesElizabeth Wasserman
We've all heard the news reports about school-age bullies taking their aggressive and abusive behavior to new extremes. Not only do some teens get into after-school fights, but some even plan a violent conflict in advance so that their buddies can stand nearby and videotape the assault. To add insult to injury, the video of the attack is posted on the Internet so these bullies can earn so-called bragging rights.
Known as cyber-bashing, these videos are not merely amateur pranks. Such fights -- which are posted everywhere from the popular YouTube to more obscure Internet sites most parents wouldn't even know about -- represent a violent new twist to childhood bullying. Children are doubly victimized -- first by the assault itself, then a second time by the public humiliation when the taping of the attack is shown on the Internet for classmates and the world to see.
"Parents need to understand that in our society, they can be held legally liable for the harm cause by what their children do and what they post online," says Nancy Willard, author of Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the Internet Safely and Responsibly (Jossey-Bass) and executive director at the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use. "So maybe they want to pay more attention to what their child might be doing not only in real life, but online as well."
For victims, perpetrators, and spectators alike, there are lessons to be learned about cyber-bashing. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Take action
if your child is a victim
If your kid ends up in a cyber-bashing video, consider taking these steps immediately:
- Download the video and call the police "Make sure you save the evidence," Willard advises. Download a copy of the video and preserve it on a CD or DVD. The video may speak for itself in court or before a juvenile justice judge and help convict the perpetrator or gang.
- Have the video removed If the perpetrator can be identified in the video or from the user information on a site like YouTube, send a certified letter to his or her parents. The letter can include something like: "This is material your child has posted online. If you don't remove it immediately, we will take further action." Also, contact the web site where the clip is posted -- for example, YouTube and MySpace will take down such material when notified. Talk to an attorney about legal action if these steps fail.
- Involve the school If the assault took place on school grounds, or if the incident has created a hostile environment for your child at school, school officials should be fully informed about the situation. "They need to make sure that your child is safe at school," Willard says. And parents should follow up to make sure adequate protection is provided.
kids about why cyber-bashing is wrong
New studies about adolescent brain development have found that the part of the brain that regulates risky behavior doesn't mature until early adulthood. It's never too late to sit down with your children and tell them why cyber-bashing is harmful and what they can do to stop it, Willard says. If your child is the perpetrator and lacks empathy, inform him or her that cyber-bashing videos can last forever on the web, and could result in punishment, including time in juvenile hall or jail. It could also interfere with college admissions or job prospects years later. If your child is involved as a third-party, encourage him or her to tell you or other adults about the existence of such damaging videos.
your child's online behavior
Most teens have access to the Internet at school or at home. Once they get to college, they're going to have unfettered online access and you want them to know how to handle the good, the bad and the ugly. A host of web sites provide education and guidance for parents on how to keep track of their kids' activities online. Getnetwise.com, sponsored by a group of technology companies, outlines the risks that kids face online, and helps parents identify law enforcement agencies that investigate suspected Internet crimes. Wiredsafety.org is a nonprofit with resources for parents, educators and kids about online hazards, assistance for victims, and help for preventing crimes. BlogSafety.org helps parents and kids learn about how to use the vast new assortment of technology tools, such as blogs and social networking, without running into trouble.
"The only way to get a handle on this," says Willard, who also happens to be the mother of three teens, "is if other kids start standing up and speaking out."
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