A group of Internet "angels" is out to protect children
Two years ago, when ninth-grader Mary Ellen Handy got an e-mail calling her a slut, she ignored it, thinking someone was just playing a joke. But soon, she started receiving instant messages saying everyone at school hated her. Then things got really nasty. A doctored picture of Mary Ellen with horns appeared on a photo Web site, and her instant messages were altered to look as if she were spreading rumors about her classmates.
The ripple effect of this online bullying was disastrous. Friends dropped Mary Ellen to avoid becoming targets themselves. Her grades fell, and she developed an ulcer. When she and her family complained to school officials, Mary Ellen says, "they didn't take it seriously."
Unfortunately, people often have a "kids will be kids" attitude about online tormenting, says Parry Aftab, who is the executive director of WiredSafety.org. They don't realize how intrusive cyberbullying can be. The digital version of playground taunting can target a child anytime and anywhere--at home, in school, or at play. Anytime she logs on to do an assignment or flips open a cell phone to call Mom, she may be victimized. But Teenangels, a group of young volunteers concerned about cyberbullying, is working to change that.
Started by Aftab in 1999, Teenangels is small--only 450 members--but its 13- to 18-year-old members have advised law-enforcement groups and taught classes on Websurfing safety across the country. Here's what Teenangels says you can do to protect your child.
Set ground rules Explain to your child that sometimes kids say nasty things online that they wouldn't express face-to-face. Emphasize that spreading rumors is no more acceptable in cyberspace than it is anywhere else. Make it clear that you want him to show you any mean messages he receives.
Teach privacy It's risky to share passwords, even with a best friend. Warn your child not to store her password on someone else's computer, which can easily happen when she goes online while visiting a friend.
Stay engaged Keep the computer in the family room or kitchen. If you're nearby, a child who receives a bullying e-mail is likely to wave you over to see it. From time to time, check in and ask what he's doing.
Keep tabs Google your child's name, address, cell phone number, and screen names regularly to see if anything negative pops up. Most Internet service providers have parental controls, so use them. (Go to www.prevention.com/links to learn how.) Does your child have a profile on a networking site, such as MySpace, where kids write about themselves? Tell her you'd like to read what's been posted--tomorrow. Giving 1 day's notice to remove anything objectionable makes it a learning experience instead of a parental gotcha, says Aftab.
Mary Ellen Handy's nightmare lasted for a while--but eventually her soccer teammates told the bullies to lay off. And that's another lesson parents can pass on: Flip the switch, learn a sport, join a club. Don't let computers take over your life.
How to fight back
If a cyberbully strikes, here’s what to do.
Stay cool Discourage your child from firing back. Get her off the computer and doing something else.
Keep a log Save offending e-mails and messages. You may need them to show to school officials or police.
Be prepared Sign up for a Google alert that notifies you if your child’s name or photo appears on a Web site
Notify the school Meet with school officials and bring your log.
- Smith, Fran, Prevention, Sep2006, Vol. 58, Issue 9
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #6
The preceding section contained information about going after cyberbullies. Write three
case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in
What are four steps regarding how to fight back against cyberbullies? Record the letter of the correct answer the .