Parents’ concerns about Internet safety used to be confined to the computer. Today, kids have more access to the Internet through smart phones and gaming devices so the potential for cyberbullying is greater than ever.
Cyberbullying is when one minor uses technology as a weapon to target another young person. According to StopCyberbullying.org, elementary and middle schools report cyberbullying as the most frequent problem they face. Most people think of cyberbullying as girl to girl. Girls become the more prevalent cyberbullies in middle school, harassing other girls and boys. Cyberbullying at the elementary school level is typically boy to boy due to the higher percentage of boys who play online games as opposed to girls.
Twenty percent of kids in the fourth through sixth grade have reported one type of cyberbullying when playing games, including:
* Password theft
* Accessing and stealing virtual items
* Mean messages
What parents can do
Parental involvement is key to preventing cyberbullying and keeping kids safe online. Marsali Hancock, president and CEO of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (www.ikeepsafe.org), recommends the following tips for parents to keep their children safe online:
* Keep current with technology. You don’t have to be an expert, but a little understanding goes a long way towards keeping your child safe online. Get basic technical training and learn about new products as they are released.
* Keep communicating with your child about what he or she is experiencing on the Internet and with technology in general. Know their lingo, and ask when you don’t understand something. Work to keep communication lines open.
* Keep checking your child’s Internet activity. Know where they go online. Let them know that you will keep checking because you want them to understand that the Internet is a public forum and never truly private.
* Keep participating with your child’s online activities. They are the experts, so you can ask them to help you. Not only will your knowledge of the digital world be strengthened – so will your relationship with your children.
“When we ask our kids what is going on at school they often reply ‘not much,’ but when we play online games with them, they start to talk about other things going on in their lives, too – it is a great way to ease into conversations that may otherwise be difficult to get started,” said Mary Heston, director of the Wiredsafety’s Wiredmoms program.
What kids can do
“Cyberbullying starts early and lasts a lifetime,” said Parry Aftab, founder and Executive Director of WiredSafety, home of StopCyberbullying.org and Wiredkids.org. “We have to teach our children good digital hygiene – about password safety and following the Internet Golden Rule – don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do offline.”
Here are some other things kids can do to help prevent cyberbullying:
* Protect your identity and reputation by being careful not to share your name, contact information, or pictures.
* Realize that what is put in the digital world can stay there forever. Only post pictures that you would want your parents, peers and school to see.
* Create secure passwords. Passwords should be easy to remember, hard to guess. If you have to write it down, it’s too hard to remember. If it’s a pet’s name, your middle name, your favorite sports team, etc., it’s too easy to guess. Remember, a combination of numbers and letters is always best.
* Don’t share your passwords. Don’t allow kids to give out their password to others. Eighty-five percent of elementary school students and 70 percent of teens polled said they shared their password with at least one friend. That’s one friend too many. Friends can be cyberbullies too, signing onto your account, impersonating you and possibly embarrassing you. They can also change your password, locking you out of your account.
A place where families can play together online
For a fun and safe place for kids, parents and even grandparents to play together online, visit buildabearville.com, the Build-A-Bear Workshop virtual world. Build-A-Bear Workshop is committed to working together with kids, parents, educators, industry experts, policymakers, and law enforcement officials to make the Internet a safer place for kids through education and awareness. The tools that are currently available at buildabearville.com for kids to learn about Internet safety include:
* Cyber Safety Quiz
* Landing page with tips and suggestions on playing safe online
* Events throughout the year to promote safe play