Monday, February 4, 2013

Cyber Bullying - Who Is At Risk?

After spending the past several years researching, analyzing, and synthesizing the work of current experts on the issue of cyber bullying, I have discovered there is consensus about who is at risk.  Data strongly supports that international victimization rates range from 10 -42% in  most, if not all, developed countries. And, victimization does not discriminate; individuals targeted cross all social, economic, racial, and cultural boundaries. However, there is also agreement that individuals with special  needs and  GLTB (gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual) communities are more highly victimized. At the same time, as caring concerned parents, guardians, educators, youth, and community members/organizations try desperately to curb this social pathogen , there is an important behavioral tenant that reminds us of how any individual can be victimized or made vulnerable through cyber bullying or from any potentially harmful source  - the degree of access (to any person, place, or thing) is a predictor to the degree of consequence (either positive or negative).

Parents and guardians, it is common sense that we teach, guide, and monitor our children as they grow and develop. As is age appropriate and with maturity that demonstrates responsibility, we allow our children to embrace a myriad of social behaviors: making friends and having over-nights, dating, driving, attending dances and parties, holding down  jobs, etc. With each extension of freedom that we hand over to our youth, we often tremble with the awareness that they are more susceptible to harm. In order to maintain our sanity, we, as parents and guardians, rely on the guidance,expectations and rules that we have set for our children, and we trust in the mutual love and respect that we have demonstrated for each other. This is why it is disturbing and unsettling when I talk with parents and guardians about their lack of  instruction, regulation, and supervision when it comes to their children's use of technology.

Research supports that the more time children spend on technology, the more at risk they are for being victimized, for participating in bullying behaviors, or both.  Once again, the degree of access is a predictor to the degree of consequence. As responsible parents and guardians, there are several strategies to  put into place if we are going to help protect our children from harmful cyber behaviors.

  • When you give your children a piece of technology or give them access to it, know why you are doing so!  Have a solid reason for it. Peer pressure is not a good reason!
  • Clearly explain the rules and expectations about the use of technology. Yes,there should be rules! Start your children on a Family Internet Use Agreement or Safety Contract ! It is never too late. If you have not used one, start now!  (see below)
  • Monitor and supervise the use of the technology.  Am I kidding - NO!  This is extremely important. Yes, monitoring should be age appropriate and it can change as children show responsibility, but do not back down on this.  When parents ask me if it is 'ok' to invade their children's privacy, I respond, "It is better to do the hard work up front than live with the heart-ache in the end." If your kids know ahead of time that you are going to be  involved in their 'on-line life', they will not resent you for it. In fact, they will thank you, especially when they see that you are simply protecting them.      
These are just a few tools to help parents and guardians reduce the risk of harm from unhealthy cyber behaviors. However, the best overall strategy is to be an active involved parent/guardian in your children's relationships with their technology.   Let's change the behavioral equation to...

The degree of meaningful respectful parental involvement and oversight into your children's lives  is a reliable predictor to the degree in which your children will safely, sensibly, and successfully  navigate through life's social challenges.  

For more tips and tools, visit Holli Kenley!

Note: Download a "Family Internet Use Agreement" now and put it in place!
          Click "Parents"; click "Family Online Safety Contract".

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