Jayne Hitchcock here. You know what I loved best about this summer? The lack of stories in the news about kids and teens killing themselves because they were cyberbullied. I have already been booked to speak at two schools this fall, which is sad, but good. One is a repeat – they want me to speak to their sophomores every year, which is even better.
But I wish more schools would hire me or someone like me to come speak to students about how what they do online is there FOREVER. And that cyberbullying is never, ever cool. Or that sexting that photo of your boobs, penis or whatever is never a good idea. Or that app they use does not make the posts/photos disappear – they are still there somewhere. That’s good advice for adults as well – It will haunt you for the rest of your life.
If you have children or grandchildren of school age, as long as your child is under the age of 18 and living under your roof, you have every right to know what they are posting online or sending via their smartphone/cell phone. You are paying for a roof over their heads, food on the table and their Internet and cell phone service, right? Then you can lay down some rules. My advice:
1. If your child has a password on their device, you need to know it. You also need to make sure they know you are not going to snoop on the device unless you need to. What would that be? If they suddenly start acting strange, don’t hang around with friends, spend way too much online or on their smartphone, their grades drop, etc or, heaven forbid, they disappear.
2. Set a time limit on all of the devices they use. If they have a laptop, netbook, tablet and/or smartphone, take it away from them at their curfew time at night. There is no earthly reason they have where they absolutely need to keep texting or chatting online into the wee hours of the morning. What they have to tell their friends can wait until the next morning when they wake up.
3. If they are allowed to use any devices in their bedroom, their door must be open at all times. If you walk by and they hide, turn over, or close their device, then it’s time to have a talk and see what’s on the device.
4. Go over the “rules of the Internet superhighway” with them. A good place to start is to exchange pledges – we have a couple on our web site at http://haltabusektd.org/ (they are on the left side of the main page). There is one for kids/teens and one for you. Sign and exchange them.
5. Make sure you encourage your child to come to you if *anything* happens to them online or via smartphone upsets or worries them. Most kids/teens are afraid to tell their parents they’ve clicked on a link to a bad (usually porn) web site or that someone is bothering them online. They are actually afraid *they* will be punished for something they have no control over. Many students have told me this after my talks at their school. Make sure your child can come to you for help.
6. If it is cyberbullying or online harassment, make sure they have asked that person to stop. A very simple “please stop contacting me” is more than sufficient. Then they should NOT respond after that, but should keep anything else that is posted online, sent to them, etc. If it continues, the school needs to be notified, especially if it is happening during school hours. If you know the child, a phone call to their parents may be in order. This is where keeping anything your child receives comes in handy. Then the parent can’t say their child didn’t do it. If there is a clear threat of physical harm, you should definitely call your local police and file a report. Don’t think it will just go away – if you or your child don’t do something about it before it gets worse, it can and will get worse. I do not want to read in the paper or see on TV you crying because your child killed themselves due to cyberbullying.
7. If you child is reluctant to talk to you or another adult, encourage them to go to our web site at http://haltabusektd.org/help/help.html and have us help them for free. We don’t contact the cyberbully, parents or the school. We can resolve 70% of the cases we get without involving anyone else.
8. Or they can talk to Phoebe, The Cyber Crime Dog at http://haltabusektd.org/phoebe/index.html. She has a form they can fill out on the page, become friends with her on Facebook and message her or follow her on Twitter. She has helped many students who would otherwise not seek help (and she has mad typing skills with her paws, lol).
9. I encourage you to put monitoring software on your child’s device and/or take advantage of parental controls on them, whether they are video came consoles, smartphones, tablets, or computers. We have a list of ones we have tried out ourselves – many have a free trial so that you can find one that suits your needs best. It’s better to be safe than to be sorry.
Finally, we have a load of resources on our site at http://haltabusektd.org/. Please use them and please do refer others to the site.
Questions? Please ask!