All Teens Know About Internet Safety Nowadays… Right? (Part 2: Bullying and Unintended Consequences)
It could be argued that no invention has had a more significant impact on our youth than the Internet. But with power comes responsibility, and it’s important that we impart some on teens. Last week, we explored some ideas for keeping youth safe from online predators. This week, we’ll provide some information on online bullying and the problems of posting information without considering the future consequences.
Just when you thought bullying was limited to school grounds and playgrounds, enter cyberbullying, the latest way technology is altering the social lives of children at an age when they are especially vulnerable to insults. It allows bullies to unleash put-downs, nasty rumors and humiliating pictures in e-mail, websites and blogs. Home is no longer a refuge from the cruel peer pressures of school. The damage can be devastating, but unfortunately it is not always obvious to parents and teachers. Schools focus on problems that take place on campus. Parents are not always aware of what their kids are doing online and many victims don’t tell their parents, out of fear they’ll be barred from using the Internet.
Cyberbullies, mostly ages 9 to 14, are using the anonymity of the Web to dish out pain without seeing the consequences. Many kids feel shielded by the anonymity offered by technology and do things they would never consider doing to someone’s face, including retaliating for an injustice done to them. The best advice for cyberbully victims is to get parents and school officials involved as soon as possible and not suffer in silence, because fighting back only engages bullies, who want a reaction.
Parents and schools can do three things to address this issue:
(1) Stay involved with kids. Ask teens to show you what’s cool on the Internet for them and fill you in on areas that you might benefit from as well. Make this one area where the adult is the student and the child is the teacher. Also assure them that you’re a safe place to come to when there’s a problem and follow through by not “freaking out” when you learn of an online incident.
(2) Report any incident of online harassment and physical threats to the Internet Service Provider (ISP). ISPs are the companies that provide Internet access to consumers. Most ISPs have Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) that clearly define privileges and guidelines for those using their services, and the actions that can be taken if those guidelines are violated. The same goes for cell phone providers.
(3) Discuss empathy with children and encourage them to be a good online citizen and not do anything that hurts other people or is against the law.
Expand Their Understanding of Public Behavior
Public behavior can be defined as anything that is heard, seen, or witnessed by other people in a public place. When kids go out in public, we expect a certain kind of behavior. The problem is that most children do not view social networking pages or blogs as “public.” They feel like their blog is their own private journal when, in actuality, content they post is widely circulated, and is likely to live on into their adulthood. This information gets searched, shared, and forwarded and not just by “nice” people. So the first thing adults can do to help teens be safe online is to broaden their definition of what is public.
Help teens to “think before posting.”
Teens are not skilled yet at being able to predict the consequences of their actions. Explain that sharing intimate details or photos online can create future problems. Once something is posted, it can always be found – years later. Even people you consider friends can use this info against you if they should ever become ex-friends. Along the same lines, explain the mistakes of sharing their Internet password with anyone… even their best friends. Here are some examples you can share with teens:
- College admissions and careers: According to a 2008 Kaplan study, one in 10 college admissions officers routinely check out college applicants’ Facebook and MySpace pages. And some 38% of them found posts or pictures that reflected poorly on those prospective students. Prospective employers also surf social networking sites and are equally unimpressed by racy photos or posts that discuss partying.
- Courtroom consequences: One of the first things attorneys do with a new case is search online for information about plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses alike. Lawyers can use this information – since it is public – in the courtroom against you.
- Child pornography charges: If a person under age 18 posts or sends photos of themselves or friends in scanty clothing or sexually suggestive poses, it can result in child pornography charges.
In addition to helping kids think about the futures uses of their postings, it can also be helpful to ask other adults you trust be become “friends” with your child on their social networking sites. If someone in a position of authority (such as a doctor, teacher, church member, etc, who is also on the same social networking site) contacts them about posts on their site, teens are more likely to be careful about what they post. In one survey, teens didn’t seem to care if their postings could haunt them in the future, but were “creeped out” enough their doctor was reading about their life to tone down their entries.
One More Tip for Parents of Teens
If you’re a parent of a teen, you must stay vigilant. Keep the computer in the family room or another open area of your home. Studies consistently show that teens are more careful about what they post when there is an adult in the general area. Also, try searching your child’s name on the Internet every so often to see what comes up. Even if they are not posting photos of themselves online, their friends could be without your child’s knowledge. You could even search your child’s friends’ names to learn more about the kids your child is hanging out with.