What is digital harassment?

Man typing on smartphone

Cell phones, social networks, and other communications devices are what today’s kids are using to bully, threaten, and aggressively harass other kids. According to Common Sense Media “digital harassment is a bit different because it usually takes place between two people in a romantic relationship.” Teens are at high risk of experiencing digital harassment at some point during their school years. Now, we are hearing more and more reports of digital harassment among adults…and they’re doing it to kids!

Sending nude pictures, whether it is done under pressure or not, is part of a pattern of teenage behavior that the Family Violence Prevention Fund, a nonprofit domestic violence awareness group based in San Francisco, has labeled digital dating violence. The digital violence can include sending nonstop text messages or posting cruel comments on a boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s Facebook or MySpace page.

It has gotten to be such a problem – and one that parents are largely unaware of, according to the organization – that it is the focus of a campaign from the Advertising Council, which highlights social issues in public service campaigns.

“The big issue is that social media can provide a forum for kids to sexually harass others in a way that is a little bit more anonymous,” says Dr. Christia Brown, respected developmental psychologist. “Even if it’s between peers, it’s one step removed from face to face harassment.”

But as a teen’s foray into the virtual world and his or her developing sexual identities become inextricably linked, Dr. Brown introduces two new and imperative conversations into the coming-of- age equation.
Understanding the full implications of teens’ online identity and how it reflects on their outside lives

Understanding why parents have the right and responsibility to monitor teens’ online behavior.

Tips for parents to stop cyber bullying

No matter how much pain it causes, kids are often reluctant to tell parents or teachers about cyberbullying because they fear that doing so may result in losing their computer or cell phone privileges. While parents should always monitor a child’s use of technology, it’s important not to threaten to withdraw access or otherwise punish a child who’s been the victim of cyberbullying.

Spot the warning signs of cyberbullying

Your child may be the victim of cyberbullying if he or she:

Becomes sad, angry, or distressed during or after using the Internet or cell phone.

Appears anxious when receiving a text, IM, or email.

Avoids discussions or is secretive about computer or cell phone activities.

Withdraws from family, friends, and activities they previously enjoyed.

Suffers an unexplained drop in grades.

Refuses to go to school or to specific classes, or avoids group activities.

Shows changes in mood, behavior, sleep, appetite, or shows signs of depression or anxiety.

Deal with incidents of cyberbullying

Don’t reply to any incidents of cyberbullying but do save and document the threats(harassing messages, sexually explicit pictures, or threatening texts, for example) and report them to the police. Seek appropriate legal advice.

Report incidents of cyberbullying to the ISP, the cell phone company, and to any web site used in the cyberbullying.

Block the cyberbully’s email address or cell phone number, or change your child’s email address or phone number.

If you are able to identify the cyberbully, you could contact his or her parents or notify your child’s school if the cyberbully is also a student there. Many schools have established protocols for handling cyberbullying but check with your child first as he or she may prefer to resolve the problem privately.

“Research shows that even teenagers do want their parents opinion,” Brown assured us.

“They may not act like it, but they DO want to know what their parents think, even about sexual behaviors… parents shy away from these conversations because they feel uncomfortable.”

Identity theft protection don’t let your personal hang-ups and discomfort leave your child vulnerable and unprepared. Conjure your authority, leverage your experience, sit them down, and clear your throat. This may just be one of the most important talks you’ll ever have.

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