Are You Raising a Cyberbully?


Cyberbullies Can Strike Anywhere
There’s Digital Media
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/

If you have a preadolescent, moody, hormonal kid, also known as a teenager, pre-teen, or “tween”, you should be aware of cyberbullying. In our digital, mobile, and social world, cyberbullying is a very real issue and a concern for parents.  Cyberbullying is much more than just a modern version of the good-old-fashioned schoolyard bullying.  In general, “cyberbullying” is the term used to describe online activities between minors that can range anywhere from text messages of a teasing nature, to digital harassment, and even threats of physical harm.  Usually it’s deliberate and repeated behavior with the intent of causing physical, psychological, or emotional harm to the victim by way of computers and cell phones.

“Egads!” One more thing for parents to worry about! As if there aren’t already plenty of social minefields that parents need to help Junior traverse during his teenage-angst years, now it’s necessary to know how to recognize when he may be the victim of a digital bully?

Indeed! And it’s precisely that picture parents typically associate with cyberbullying — protecting their little angel from the harm of online meanies.  Most parents are working hard to raise a “good” kid, who’s kind and considerate of others. But all kids, even good ones, make mistakes and bad choices. They need our guidance. It’s important for parents to realize that a child is just as likely to be the cyberbully as they are to be the victim of one. Parents need to be aware of this possibility, even as heartbreaking and devastating as it could be to learn that your kid is the one behaving badly. Sometimes the child has no clue their actions could be classified as cyberbullying. Kids can also switch between roles, from victim to bully and back again, as part of a digital exchange.  Whatever the case, parents need to address the issue head-on and not wait for it to just go away.

It’s anyone’s guess why your offspring might get caught up in the role of the cyberbully. Surely contributing factors are the ubiquitous and oh-so-easy-to-use digital toys of today, which make for an abundance of opportunity. Because communications are merely typed online and not face-to-face, kids can feel less encumbered, making them much more likely to write shocking or mean things they wouldn’t ordinarily say in person. The writer feels a sense of detachment and anonymity, making the comments seem not so personal.

But why would any kid, especially your child, bully another online, regardless of ease and opportunity? The reasons are many and varied:

  • Attention – Looking for laughs , trying to be funny or look “cool.” Attempting to elicit some sort of reaction from the intended target or onlookers.
  • Power-Hungry – Harassing others is a cheap and easy way for a kid to boost their ego.
  • Mob Mentality – It’s easy to pile on or be a “me too” when you can get lost in the crowd. It’s safer, especially if a kid knows the behavior is questionable in first place.
  • Mean Girls – It’s a way for kids to establish or improve their social standing in a group or clique. Reinforces the cyberbully’s place in social circles.
  • Entertainment – It could be as simple as boredom. Too much time on their hands, not enough to do, and too many tech toys available to them.
  • Revenge, Frustration, or Anger – It can start as “vigilante justice” defending themselves from bullies or standing up for others.
  • Vicarious Tough Guy – It’s an easy way to be the tough guy or gal.
  • Accident – Let’s face it, a kid could mistakenly send a message to the wrong recipient or not think something through before they sent it.

So what are the signs that a child might be doing the cyberbullying?

  •  Uses several online accounts or ones that are not their own.
  • Avoids talking about their online activities or what they’re doing on the computer.
  • Quickly switches screens, minimizes windows, or closes programs when someone approaches or walks by.
  • Appears to always want to hide their cell phone or computer from you.
  • Uses the computer excessively or late at night.
  • Becomes angry, upset, or irritated when they’re denied use of a computer, cell phone, or mobile device.
  • Displays increased levels of aggression.
  • Is unwilling to accept responsibility for their behavior.
  • Laughs excessively while using the computer or other electronic devices.

What’s a parent to do if and when they discover their child is a cyberbully?  Do you use the old potty training for dogs technique of rubbing their nose in it by cyberbullying your own child? Although that might teach them empathy for the cyberbully victim, it’s probably not the most constructive method. Besides, if two wrongs ever do make a right, this probably isn’t the time. Try the following:

  • Talk to your kids about the power of words and how damaging and hurtful they can truly be.
  • Talk to your child firmly about his or her actions and explain the negative impact it has on others.
  • Force your child to really reflect on what they did, why they did it, giving serious thought to what the actual impact was on their victim.
  • Try to find out if they themselves have ever been bullied.
  • Require your child to do research on cyberbullying and the long-term damage and trauma it can cause people.
  • Consider restricting your child’s cell phone and Internet privileges until behavior improves and then monitor their activities closely. Remind your child that the use of cell phones and computers is a privilege.
  • Consulting with your child’s teachers, guidance counselors, and other school officials could help you understand why your kid would bully another.
  • If your child has trouble managing anger, talk to a therapist about helping them handle strong feelings in a constructive manner.
  • Also consider seeking professional counseling to help your child combat the urge to harm or harass others.
  • A final next step could be to consider reparations, which take into account the victim and possibly their family. (Keep in mind that a victim of bullying may not be able to readily accept an apology right away.  The victim might question the sincerity of the apology or may suspect an ulterior motive. Sometimes the apology is best made several months after the incident.)

The time to address cyberbullying with your kids is before it occurs. Talk to them about what cyberbullying actually is and what forms it can take. Give examples and explain to them that joking around and teasing might seem like good clean fun, but it can hurt people’s feelings and lead to serious consequences. Also, don’t rely on the school system to educate or intervene when it comes to cyberbullying. There is limited guidance available about whether schools should intervene, or whether they legally can, in bullying situations that occur off-campus, outside of school hours, and/or that involve digital or electronic communications.  Further complicating matters, cyberbullying occurs most often on weekends, when kids have more time and opportunity to be online.

Bullying in any form is unacceptable. It can have severe and long-lasting consequences. When one kid bullies another, it can be devastating.  When dozens of kids bully another, the emotional damage can last a lifetime. The more involved you are as a parent, the greater your ability will be to recognize cyberbullying and put a stop to it. Tech-savvy parents can model good online behavior and help their kids understand the benefits and the dangers of life online in the digital world.

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Exposed – Geolocation Dangers and You

Exposed – Geolocation Dangers and You

On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.

You’ve heard that saying before, right? Well, nobody may know you’re a dog on the Internet, but through the magic of GPS-enabled gadgets, they may know where you’re located.

With today’s advances in technology and all of the swanky new things we can do with our gadgets, the dangers of geolocation are something many people don’t realize. Slowly but surely, more creeps and criminals are using technology to find victims, and GPS-enabled devices are helping them out in a big way.

Here are a few prime places where geolocation information can creep up, and why you don’t want it to show itself:

  • Your Cell Phone or Digital Camera:

    If possible, turn off any location-aware abilities, especially for pictures or any media that’s made publicly available. Exif information (which can include GPS data) can be included in pictures in some of the new/popular smartphones (iPhone and Android people, I’m talking to you), and that’s a prime example of geolocation danger waiting to happen.

    It’s not a big deal to geocode (e.g. add the GPS data) a picture you take in a store, or a restaurant, but if you’re hanging around the house or taking a picture of your kids at school, the last thing you want is to let strangers have the GPS location of those places.

  • Your Social Networks:

    Just say no to showing where you are. If you want to let people know how much fun you’re having someplace, do it after the fact. For example, if you’re going on vacation, don’t announce it on Facebook or Twitter before you go; wait until you’re back. The plus side is that you’ll be able to show off your pictures and videos, too.

    For the same reason you don’t want your geolocation revealed publicly to strangers through your pictures, you don’t want to do it on your social networks. Keep personally identifiable information safe from prying eyes.

By the way, the EFF has a great article and PDF download on living with, but not being hampered by, geolocation services and tools.

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10 Online Safety Tips for Kids and Families.

10 Online Safety Tips for Kids and Families.

You don’t need us to tell you how important online safety for your family is, especially if you have kids still living at home. Local and national news sources help illustrate this point almost every day with stories about online scams, Internet perverts, and worse. But today we’re going to help you prevent any more of those stories by giving out some basic online safety tips for you and your family.

With the proper guidance, you can help make sure that you’ve done everything you can to help your kids surf safely on the Internet. Take a look at the list we’ve compiled below and see if there’s anything here you haven’t tried yet.

  1. Always sit with younger children when they’re online. Keep a few bookmarks that they can easily access to get to kid-friendly web sites.

  2. Help your kids create fun online nicknames that don’t give away personal information.

  3. Keep any computers that are connected to the Internet in an open area where your children can be easily supervised.

  4. Ensure that your kids aren’t sharing personally-identifiable and/or sensitive information with people they meet online. Examples of info to keep private include:

    • his/her real name,

    • the physical address of their home,

    • whether or not their parents, guardians, or other responsible adult are home,

    • any phone number (home or cell), or

    • passwords.

  5. Let them know that it’s not OK to use the Internet to gossip, cyberbully, or threaten anyone online, even if they mean it as a joke.

  6. Let your children know that it’s OK to tell you if something (or someone) on the Internet makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.

  7. Make sure they know it’s never OK to meet an online friend without parental permission.

  8. Set clear rules for appropriate Internet use. Things you should consider are the types of web sites that are off limits, specific Internet hours, and what (if any) information can be shared online.

  9. Talk to your children about what web sites they visit and who they’re chatting with.

  10. Talk with your kids about computers and be open to their questions.

The online safety tips we’ve listed above are a good starting point for any family with children who are old enough to use computers, but they are by no means an exhaustive list. Monitor how much your kids use the Internet, see what’s working and what isn’t, and stay involved.

If you think we’ve missed anything, or if you have a story about how your family talks about online safety, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

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Stranger Danger: Geolocation Features and Internet Safety.

Stranger Danger: Geolocation Features and Internet Safety.

Location-aware features are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s online services and tech gadgets. From GPS in the latest smart phones to adding a geolocation tag on social networking sites like Twitter or even Google, its easier than ever to let people know where you are any time of day or night. But with the ability to publicly display your location lies an inherent risk for being a victim of cyber-stalking or worse.

When it comes to technology and online services in our digital world, it’s easy to forget how all the strings tie together. As we tweet, blog, or update our Facebook statuses during the day we’re supplying everyone who can see our profiles with sensitive data regarding our day-to-day activities. From what and where we had lunch to when we’re going to bed, every time we post anywhere we’re opening our lives a little more. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but basic precautions should be taken, especially with tools that can display our location on a map.

Thinking of geolocation data as sensitive information is important not only for your privacy, but for the safety of yourself and your possessions. Because of this we recommend that, if you add geolocation info with your online posts, you exclude certain places from being published. Examples of recommended sites to exclude are:

  • Your house:

    GPS data these days is so accurate that if your geolocation data is posted online it can show you not only your general neighborhood, but the precise location of your house. With a good satellite image from Google maps it’s even possible to discover what kind of car you drive and where good hiding spots are around your home.

  • Where you work:

    For most people a large part of the day is spent at work. Geo-tagging from work allows anyone wishing to follow you to easily track where you are when you’re on the job.

  • Schools & daycare:

    Our children are our most precious gift, and showing the world where they go to school or daycare is just about as dangerous as doing it from your home. Resist the urge to post location information when you’re waiting at the school pick-up circle.

  • Vacation spots:

    We already know that tweeting can potentially lead to a home burglary, and if you add your geolocation tags to your vacation posts when you’re out of town, you’ll not only let criminals know you’re gone, you’ll let them know how long your house will be empty.

It may seem far fetched at first, but here’s an all-too-possible scenario: Person A follows Person B on Twitter, and vice versa. Person A likes to tweet a lot about everything she does during a day. On her profile Person A has a profile picture of herself, her first and last name, and the latitude/longitude of her current location updated whenever she tweets. If Person B is an unscrupulous character, he can cyber-stalk Person A to his hearts content and begin to build up his own profile on her: Where she works, where she shops for groceries, who her friends are, what her neighborhood is like, and when she’s at home or running around town. Mix in real-time geolocation tagging and he can not only follow her online, he can take his stalking to the real world.

While geolocation tools and services can add a fun, new dimension to your virtual life, you need to understand the risks of opting-in to them. Just be sure to not share any location-based information that can put stalkers close to you.

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