The age of (cyber) bullying
In October of 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier hung herself when a ‘boy’, Josh Evans, she was corresponding with online told her ‘the world would be a better place’ without her. How do you know if your child is being bullied online and what measures can you take to prevent it?
In October of 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier hung herself in the closet when a ‘boy’, Josh Evans, she was corresponding with online told her ‘the world would be a better place’ without her. The only twist? Josh Evans was not a real boy but a mother of one of her former friends who wanted to get back at Meier for spreading rumours about her daughter.
Before you shrug the story off, with an “aiyah, such things only happen in the US,” it’s interesting to note that according to a 2006 survey done here in Singapore, 25 per cent of 3,488 students shared that they had experienced online harassment before. On a per-capita basis, this is the most compared to all other countries except the United States.
How do you know if your child is being bullied online? Mr. Effendy Ibrahim, Norton’s Family Online Safety expert and father of 4 boys, tells parents to look out for these signs.
1. Observe your child’s behaviour
Has he become quieter recently? Has he become more withdrawn lately? Does he glance wearily at the computer or quiver in fright whenever someone switches it on?
2. Avoids gatherings, social events & school activities
The fear of mingling is something that bullied victims go through. If you spot signs of your child refusing to attend gatherings or becomes sullen in social events, then this might be a silent cry for help. Do not shelve this as shyness.
3. Do you notice your child becoming frustrated after logging off?
What he is facing online can bring about frustration, moodiness and even aggression. Unable to deal with the situation where he has become a victim, your child may be taking out his frustrations on his younger siblings, in order to be able to control actions and situations.
4. Slipping Grades
This is possibly one of the most common signs when it comes to bullying, be it playground-bullying or cyber-bullying. Children often lose focus due to the insistent worrying that they are harbouring over the bully. Check your child’s work or have a chat with his teacher to see how he’s been doing so far and if there has been any noticeable slip in his work.
5. Closing browsers & switching pages
Does your child immediately close the browser or switch to another page when you walk into the room? This may not be noticeable at first so try to see if it occurs anytime someone walks in. This can be a sign that your child is hiding something which can be anything from pornography to coming abuse, so this is definitely a sign to look out for.
So you’ve spotted the signs, now what?
Well according to Mr James Fang, General Manager of IT security firm Trend Micro, you should take the following steps.
1. Protect your family’s network of computers
You don’t have to place your child’s computer in an open space anymore. You can still give him his freedom while remotely protecting the computer by using home network protection systems. For example, the Trend Micro’s Home Network Protection system includes parental control capabilities which blocks your child from 20 categories of harmful web content while easily controlling the day and time when your child can access the Internet.
2. Agree on websites your kids can visit
Create a list of websites that your child would like to access. Only allow sites that are age-appropriate without negative or malicious content. Download a free website reputation service and visit each of the websites on your list to see if they are safe from digital security threats. This type of service will also continuously provide you with information indicating if a site visited is free from any malicious software that may get installed on your computer without your knowledge.
3. Use website filtering
Use a security software with parental control features such as URL filtering to ensure your child does not see or access sites that you do not wish him or her to see. Even a harmless search for a “bunny” may turn up the inappropriate playboy version.
4. Educate kids about what they should not disclose online
Children may share their personal details such as school or home address with their best friends as it is a sign of trust to tell each other their details at a young age. While it is important to educate your child not to disclose details to strangers, it is easier to install software which ensures Data Theft Protection. Thus, when your child unknowingly discloses his address online, the receiving party will only receive garbled text instead.
5. Electronic pathways can be just as dangerous as back alleys
Just as there are bad people lurking around in the real world, there are those who mean harm to your child online. When you teach your child not to talk to strangers on the streets, you need tell them that they do not have to acknowledge or respond when they get messages from strangers online.
6. Kids’ web video viewing
Parental discretion must be applied when your child views websites that stream entertaining videos. Even though most of the popular sites prohibit pornography and violence, there are videos that are not suitable for younger children that end up on the Internet.
7. Venture into the online playground
Spend some quality time with your child and learn about the latest games and websites that he or she loves to access. By playing together with your child in the online world, you will be able to observe how your child behaves online and whether the content is age-appropriate.
Cyber-bullying is not uncommon, it can be stopped and there is no room for blame here only safety measures. Communicate your concerns to your child before he gets well acquainted with the web. Talk about cyber-bullying with your children before it happens. You can create a safe environment for your child’s online experience.