Social Networking and cyberbullying: You can keep your kids safe

Jun 3, 2011 9:27am


By Katie Greer of WhatsWhat.me.

"According to the Family Online Safety Institute, 32% of all teens claim to have been bullied on the Internet.  As parents, what can we do about this? Being proactive is a way for kids, parents, and social networking sites to safely coexist. There are steps that we can take to help prevent things like cyberbullying on social networking sites. The first step is educating ourselves about social networking. Here are some tips for letting social networking into your child’s life while keeping cyberbullying out:

1. Know It.
Parents need to understand how social networking sites work. There are many parents who are active on social networking sites, but if you’re not one of them, that’s OK. It’s important to at least understand the rules and basic principles of how these sites function, and more importantly how kids interact on them. Kids are only allowed to participate on sites like Facebook if they’re over the age of 13. Knowing the rules of a site and enforcing them in your own home can be the first step in making sure your kids are protected from cyberbullying and other potential dangers on social networking sites. There are resources available such as allfacebook.com and the WhatsWhat.me Parent Resource Center (www.whatswhat.me) to help you navigate social networks.

2. Old-Fashioned Conversation and Observation.
Have you noticed that your child is acting strangely or seems sad after being online? Mood shifts after being online can be a good indicator that your child is being cyberbullied.  Keeping an open dialogue, teaching positive online behavior and checking in on your child’s social networking behavior are important.  Talking with your child about their general online experience and about cyberbullying in particular (along with some online behavior they may be observing) can be very effective in combating and preventing cyberbullying. Keeping this dialogue open will also let your child know that he/she can come to you if something comes up.

3. Parenting ≠ Spying.
When it comes to cyberbullying, parents can be the first line of defense for their children. Here are some tips:

  • Check your child’s social networking sites often. Parents check up on their kids’ offline activities daily, and online activities should be no different.
  • Knowing your child’s username and password to their social networking sites is strongly encouraged. While asking permission may be tough if you haven’t already set this precedent, many parents require that their children give them their username and password in exchange for permission to participate in social networking sites. This way, you will be able to log into your child’s account and monitor activity. And, parents can team up with other parents and take on this responsibility together by agreeing to share concerning information that may be discovered.
  • Using monitoring software can also be helpful when it comes to preventing cyberbullying. This will allow you to see any activity that occurs while your child is on their computer – including social networking, email and chat. Many parents may see this as an invasion of privacy; however an effective way to implement this is to let your children know you that you will be monitoring their activity. This way, they’re aware that you’ll be looking, and it provides a great opportunity to set some ground rules around acceptable social networking and online behavior in your home.

Although social networking has received some negative press, it can be a fun and useful communications tool when used wisely. Through parental involvement and teaching kids good/appropriate online behavior, parents can help empower and protect their kids from cyberbullying on social networks."

Katie LeClerc Greer is the former Internet Safety Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and former Intelligence Analyst for the Massachusetts State Police. Her nationally recognized Internet/technology safety programs have been delivered to thousands of students, parents, school staff and law enforcement agencies around the country.  She is the Director of Content and Internet Safety at WhatsWhat.me (Beta), the safe, secure “kids-only” social network for kids ages 7 to 13 (“tweens”) utilizing biometric facial recognition technology, human moderation, grade-based separation and kid-friendly features in a “no-bullying allowed” community. Compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), WhatsWhat.me (Beta) fosters an age-appropriate, empowering environment that teaches positive online behavior, Internet safety and related life skills. At its free Parent Resource Center prc.whatswhat.me parents obtain expert advice, podcasts and information on cybersafety for children. More information: www.whatswhat.me or http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/whatswhat/48109/ Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @WhatsWhat_me. Media Contact: Jeanie Ryan at jeanie@whatswhat.me or 603-235-5266.