By Kelly Oden
Bullying and name calling amongst children and teens is nothing new. If you weren’t the victim of schoolyard ridicule as a kid, there is a good chance you were the instigator. In the past, these issues involved name calling, rumors or physical abuse and were usually resolved through conversations with school officials and the parents of the children involved. It’s not so simple anymore. The way in which kids are bullied has intensified with the rise of the internet and many of these behaviors are classified as crimes when carried out online. Kids and parents need to be aware of the potential consequences, both legal and emotional, of cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying, much like real world bullying, is behavior that includes tormenting, threatening, harassing, etc., but cyber bullying takes place through the internet and cell phones. This form of bullying can include threats or hurtful messages sent via email or text message; sending false rumors through text message, online boards or social networking sites; leaving hurtful, harassing or threatening messages on web pages or social networking sites; impersonating someone else online to harass or hurt another person; and taking or obtaining unflattering or sexually suggestive pictures of another person and spreading them online or via text.
After seeing an uptick in crimes related to cell phones, internet stalking and pornography, The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) developed a program called Informed Parent. The workshop is held in Escambia County schools with the goal of informing parents about what could be going on with their kids and the internet. “We were finding that most parents didn’t even know that their kid had an AOL account or Facebook page or a cell phone for that matter. Parents are unaware of what their kids are doing away from home. Kids will go to their friend’s houses and get online there if they can’t access it from home. Once they get on the internet, there are a lot of bad things that can happen out there. We wanted to educate the parents about these dangers,” says Lieutenant Ken Simmons, who heads the program.
Kids begin their online life in elementary school or sooner playing games, doing research, watching YouTube videos and creating presentations. According to Simmons, bullying and the sharing of inappropriate materials are being seen as young as elementary school. “We are seeing more and more cell phone usage and we are seeing more and more pornography in the elementary setting, believe it or not. For the most part these kids are not yet getting stalked online in terms of bullying or predators. There are predators who target younger kids, but we are not seeing a lot of that in our area. What we are seeing is pornography being passed between juveniles in elementary school,” says Simmons.
Simmons says middle school is where the more dangerous types of cyber bullying typically begin. For these digital natives born into an immersive world of technology, the internet has all but replaced the mall as the go to place to hang out and talk with friends. One of the biggest issues in middle and high school is what he calls ‘sextortion,’ which involves the threat of or the actual sending of sexually explicit images via the internet or cell phones. “As we go up in age into the middle school ages, we throw in the important dynamic of relationships between boyfriends and girlfriends. What we see is the boyfriend asks the girlfriend to send an inappropriate photo or vice versa. You and I both know that these young puppy-love relationships hardly ever last. When relationships end, these photos are often distributed out of spite or jealousy by the ex or by the new boyfriend or girlfriend. Once they start distributing these photographs, you have, by statutory definition, transmission of child pornography. The kids are subject to criminal charges at that point. We are seeing a lot of that in middle and high school situations,” says Simmons.
In high school situations, Simmons says they start to see kids stalked by outside predators more often. The predators are very smooth. They look at the teens Facebook and learn all about them to get an in, which opens the door to stalking, sextortion and worse. This is why it is so important to monitor your kids’ social media accounts, says Simmons.
So, what can parents do? Simmons has the following suggestions:
*First and foremost, purchase the appropriate parental software that will block inappropriate sites and log sites visited. Many software options will also send an email alert if inappropriate material is accessed.
*Educate your kids on the appropriate use of the internet. Make sure they know not to post anything online or send any picture that they would be ashamed of the public seeing. That goes for comments as well.
*Be the boss– their phone belongs to you. Make sure they know that you can check their phone at any time, day or night. They should have no expectation of privacy. Make a regular habit of checking the phones whether you suspect something or not.
*Know all of their passwords. They should not have unfettered access to the internet.
*If your child is not allowed to have a cell phone, check their room, drawers, and bags to make sure they are not hiding one.
*Check with your kid’s friends and your family members. Do they have access to the internet in other homes? Be sure to set rules with friends and family as well.
*Get on the internet and see if your child has a Facebook account. Also, Google them and see what comes up. You may be surprised by what you find.
*Pay attention and listen to your kid. An open dialogue is critical for your child to feel safe coming to you with an issue.
The internet can be an extremely useful tool for schoolwork, social interaction, music and more. Unfortunately, the internet has also become the go-to arena for bullying and stalking among kids. Rumors, nasty memes and inappropriate photos can spread like wildfire online and can have a devastating effect on a victim’s self-esteem as well as potential criminal charges for the perpetrator. The bottom line, says Simmons, “If you think your kids might be going online, they probably are. If you don’t think your kids are going online, they probably are. It’s up to the parents to monitor and protect them. If you learn that your child is being bullied, don’t hesitate to call law enforcement immediately.”
|Cyber Bullying Statistics
|Percent of students who reported being cyber bullied
|Teens who have experienced cyber threats online
|Teens who have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the internet
|Teens who do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs
|Percent of teens who have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of themselves without their permission, often using cell phone cameras
|Where Cyberbullying Takes Place
|Percent Who Reported
|Cyberbullying by Gender
|I have been cyberbullied
|Someone posted mean or hurtful comments online
|Someone posted a mean video about me online
|I have cyberbullied others
|I spread rumors online about others
|I posted a mean / hurtful picture online
Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Health and Human Services, Cyberbullying Research Center