Publishers Letter: Stop Cyber-bullying, Start Educating: A Guide for Grown-Ups
“B**ch.” When my daughter received a harassing text I went ballistic. I did again when my son wrote mean (though not vulgar) messages. Having learned from the process, I’ve developed a guide to help you navigate your child or teen’s online experience. It’s a work in progress, and I welcome your thoughts on Rainbow Rumpus’s Facebook Page.
What Grown-Ups Need to Know:
Facebook is one of the safest places for your child or teen on the web.
Why? Facebook is built on a pro-social pressure model. (Notice how there’s only a “like” button). At this point in time the majority of Facebook interactions can be easily tracked. Facebook also has an anti-bullying policy, and works to keep teens on the site by ensuring the site’s safety. Facebook is also fairly easy to monitor as a parent. Simply require your child to be friends with you, and friend a few of his or her friends. This doesn’t mean that you and your child need to interact frequently—I’d recommend you don’t—but it gives you the opportunity to periodically visit their page and get a sense of what their interactions with people are like.
Words and photos on the web last forever and are easy to misunderstand.
Seemingly innocuous messages and communications can be easily misunderstood and can quickly spread around. This makes it important to stay positive online, and share mostly about yourself as opposed to saying things about others. Kids should know not to photograph anyone doing anything inappropriate, and never to post those photos to the web. Take the time to define what inappropriate means to you and your family—smoking, drinking, and nudity strike me as the basics.
It’s our job as parents and guardians to communicate and enforce standards of online behavior.
When your child does begin texting or interacting with others online, it’s important that they know what kind of conduct you expect—and that they’ll lose online or texting privileges if they can’t behave appropriately. At first, I had thought that my daughter’s texts would be her private business. Now that I’ve seen texts used as social weapons, I feel differently. Online and text speech is inherently public speech, because it can last forever. We can explain to our kids that their texts aren’t really private—other people can share them—and because of this we need to occasionally check in on what’s being texted. It’s a good idea to talk with your child about online behavior at the age when they can access texting or online social networks through you or through friends, even if your child isn’t yet using these services with your blessing. I learned this the hard way when my son wrote messages on my phone that he didn’t understand would reach and could hurt the feelings of the recipients. You may also want to install an application like ProCon Latte, which blocks sites with foul language or pornography; “out of the box,” it blocks sites with the words “gay and lesbian,” but you can alter this setting or add certain sites (like Rainbow Rumpus) to the approved sites list.
What Kids and Teens Need to Know:
There’s never any reason to say something negative or nasty online. Online problems just get bigger. Problems between people need to be talked about face-to-face (or at least on the phone) by the people involved.
Talk about yourself. Ask questions of others. Think before you share.
Talk with your child or teen about what types of topics are fine to share, and what might be too personal to share. It’s always good to learn to ask questions of others and listen to the answers. It’s fine to talk about good times you’ve had with others, too. Talk to your child about personal information—what it is (phone numbers, addresses, email address, etc.) and under what circumstances you would share it online. Depending on your child, you might need to give very concrete guidelines (never share any information unless you talk to me), or you could be more nuanced (you can share your email address on web sites but not your address or phone, for example).
Friends are people you’ve met in person.
It’s important that your child or teen understands that while online friendships can develop, it is not safe for a young person to ever share personal information or arrange to meet someone they know on a solely online basis. If your child ever wants to meet an online friend, he or she should talk with you first. You should be able to view the development of the friendship and, if it seems appropriate, accompany your child or teen to a public location to meet.
We often don’t feel as comfortable as our children in the online world. However, the general lack of adults in this world makes our guidance even more important. It will be interesting to watch our grown children teach our grandchildren standards of online behavior. In the meantime, I welcome you to share your reactions to this article on our Facebook page.