How to deal with online "cyber bullies"

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cyber-bullyingEmboldened by anonymity, some adolescents are engaging in cyber bullying and are using e-mail, instant messengers, and social media sites like Facebook to send vicious threats and spread nasty gossip.

Unlike bullying in school, cyber bullying continues 24/7 and allows school year rivalries to simmer through the summer. Both boys and girls are targets of cyber bullying, though girls are often more devastated by the put-downs, rumors and sexual slurs.

At first glance, it may seem to adults that the solution is as simple as closing a window. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. For teens who are unsure about themselves and their place in their peer group, knowing that someone is posting lies about them can be genuinely traumatic, especially when the rumors spill into real life.

For all these reasons, parents need to bullyproof their kids by helping them recognize and respond appropriately to intimidation — both on and off-line. Here are some tips for dealing with cyber bullies:

  1. Make a distinction between teasing, which is part of normal friendship, and bullying, which is not. Teasing is reciprocal and stops when one person gets upset. In bullying, the same person is always the victim and the bully takes pleasure in his or her distress.
  2. Determine whether your child knows the person in real life. If you decide your children are mature enough to use sites where interaction with strangers occurs (such as chatrooms), warn them that some people get their kicks by “flaming” other people. These abusive messages are meant to provoke a response, so the best way to thwart the sender is to ignore them and either leave the website or carry on as if the person isn’t there. If the bully sends harassing e-mail, messages from that address should be blocked. (To find out how to block an e-mail message, check the help section of your ISP’s web site.)

Read on for tips to combat cyber bullying


Tips to combat cyber bullying

Online bullying becomes more complicated when children are tormented by kids they know in real life. Children are often reluctant to tell parents about these incidents for fear it will make things worse. It’s up to parents to ask whether kids are getting picked on at school or on the Internet.  If your child has been a victim or a witness to online bullying, here are several steps to take:

  • Have your child print out copies of abusive e-mails, instant messages or websites. Sometimes telling the bully that behavior is being documented will end the problem.
  • Find out how other kids have solved bullying problems at www.bullying.co.uk. Located in Great Britain, this website has tons of information and insight from kids, teachers and experts. Kids can even get e-mail advice by writing to help@bullying.co.uk
  • Get in touch with the school. Because they realize that bullying can lead to violence, many schools have intervention programs.
  • Call the other parents. Your child will probably be against this idea, but sometimes a calm talk between adults can get to the bottom of the problem. Before picking up the phone, think about how you’d want to be approached if your child were the one who was misbehaving.

Finally, be sure your own child doesn’t participate in bullying. Some children who wouldn’t think of being unkind face-to-face become antagonistic and even cruel when they are online. Kids need to understand that the rules for being a decent human being aren’t different on the Internet. If you’ve taught your kids to be considerate, caring and compassionate in real life, be sure they know you have the same expectations in cyberspace.  

By Carolyn Jabs   
      

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