Cyberbullying: Parents are children's first line of defense

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

2/11/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Keeping children safe now involves a new dimension - cyberspace. Learning to navigate this terrain can be a challenge for parents, particularly those who didn't have Facebook and smart phones when they grew up. Marie Hixon, a personal and
work life consultant for the Airman and Family Readiness Center, and April Jones, Family Advocacy outreach manager, can provide some answers.

How do you define cyber dangers?

Ms. Jones: Cyber bullying is bullying or harassment that happens online. It can happen in an e-mail, a text message, an online game, or comments on a social networking site. It may involve rumors or images posted on someone's profile or passed around for others to see, or creating a group or page to make a person feel left out.

How early should parents start talking to kids about cyber dangers?

Ms. Jones: Start early talking to your youth about being online. As soon as your child or youth starts using a computer, cell phone or any mobile device, it's time to talk to them about online behavior, safety and security. As a parent, you have the opportunity to talk to your youth about important safety precautions and behavior before anyone else does.

How can parents protect their children?

Ms. Hixon: Keep computers out of children's rooms, and place computers where they can be supervised at all times. Learn the new technologies and how to follow the places their children have visited. Also, there are many sites to help parents to learn how to supervise their child's computer use.

What signs may indicate their children are being bullied online?

Ms. Hixon: Parents should look for mood changes, children spending more and more time online, too much chatting with someone the parent does not know, or on a site the parent is not familiar with. Look for some emotional dependence to being online, such as problems sleeping or eating, and changes in behaviors such as arguing more, changes in how a child wants to dress, or not spending time doing the things the child used to do.

How should parents handle cases of bullying?

Ms. Hixon: Parents should teach about the bullying before it happens. Don't downplay it or tell a child to toughen up and learn to stand up to it or just ignore it. Cyber bullying is becoming more prevalent and dangerous since adults are starting to join in. Save all communications for future reference. Try talking to the other parent. Find out what you can do legally by contacting the proper department of the local police force. Follow through with stopping the bullying once you start it and the other parties will not stop. Bullying often will escalate. If it is happening at school, involve the teachers and administration staff. If that does not work, pursue a legal course of action.

What should they say if their children are unwilling participants? What if they are sent an inappropriate photo?

Hixon: Save all communications for future reference, and teach your child to come to you or another trusted adult. Find someone the child is comfortable talking to, like a counselor or minister if they are not comfortable talking to the parent. If they are sent a photo, they should show it to the parent or a teacher if at school.

What should parents say and do if they learn their own children are bullies?

Hixon: First, get over any denial and seek counseling for the child and maybe even the parent. Restrict the means the child uses to bully other children such as the cell phone or computer.