If a child has access to the Internet, text messaging or email, they could become a victim of cyberbullying. According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of students in fourth through eighth grades have been the victim of some form of online bullying.
Cyberbullying is bullying through email, instant messaging, in chat rooms, on a website, through digital messages, or images sent to a cellular phone.
“Cyberbullying is unique,” said Cheryl Varnadoe, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 4-H specialist and cyberbullying expert. “It not only looks and feels different than traditional bullying, but presents some unusual challenges in dealing with it. Damage done by cyberbullies is real. And in some cases, can be more painful than traditional bullying.”
Research conducted by Georgia 4-H's Youth Technology Leadership Team shows that children may not tell parents they have been harassed online.
“As children get older, the likeliness of them reporting the abuse is less likely,” she said. “One reason they are less prone to tell is they say we didn’t listen or believe them when they did come and tell us.”
Parents should pay attention, she said, and take action if their children are:
- Hesitant to be online.
- Nervous when receiving an instant message, email or text.
- Upset after using the computer or cell phone.
- Hiding or clearing the computer screen or closing the phone when parents enter the room.
- Withdrawing from friends.
- Falling behind in schoolwork or avoiding school.
- Very moody or crying.
Almost all American teens use the Internet on a daily basis, according to a recent study by Pew Internet. Approximately 23 million youth log on every day. Most parents, 81 percent, don’t think teens are careful when sharing information online or on their cell phones. More than half of parents and teens agree teenagers do things online they wouldn’t want their parents to know about.
Roughly 60 percent of teens own a cell phone and spend on average an hour a day talking and texting, according to U.S. Cellular Statistics.
Teach kids to be safe online
“As youth go online in increasing numbers, cyber ethics is a critical lesson,” Varnadoe said. “Online, people can feel invisible and capable of doing things they normally wouldn’t do in person or in public.”
Tell children not to hurt others online, respect privacy, be responsible, ignore insults from others and be themselves. Appropriate online communication is a proactive way to discourage cyberbullying and make children aware of what is not allowed, she said.
“As a parent or caretaker, your goal is to keep a good ongoing dialogue with your child so they will feel comfortable telling you if something bad happens online or somewhere else,” she said. “Build a relationship of trust and then listen carefully to what your child says about their online experiences. Let your child know you believe them and will help them feel safe. Be clear that you need to know if your child receives an inappropriate message, both on and offline.”
Spreading the word
“I saw my tech team (Georgia 4-H Youth Technology Leadership Team) in a room with a group of kids, and they would rather text and email than talk to each other,” she said. “I also saw them going to a website that allows anonymous postings and being mean. These kids were supposed to be the leaders and teaching others about responsible behavior. I decided then I needed to learn what to do and how to work with others and teach others how to do the same.”
Varnadoe created the Cyber Security Initiative to educate youth across the state on cyberbullying and Internet safety. The program introduces youth and adults to the rules of cybercitizenship.
Partnering with local UGA Extension offices, the Georgia 4-H Youth Technology Leadership Team travels around the state to lead free classes on cyberbullying, Internet safety and social networking. The program is funded by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board.
For more information and to schedule programs, contact Varnadoe at firstname.lastname@example.org.