Before you have a conversation about cyber-bullying or Internet abuse, there is one important caveat. Cyber-bullying is not only confined to people under the age of 18; offensive, abusive Internet related materials are just as easily found in the workplace as they are in youth social networks. This is why parents and children need to beware of Internet aggressors and online risks. The makings of an Internet bully change very little between youth and adulthood, so it is up to parents to recognize the behavior and protect not only their children, but themselves as well.
Bullies Without a Face
When two people talk face-to-face, a head-nod, verbal response or even inadvertent body language messages tell a person that their message is being acknowledged in some way. These micro-messages are part of the communication feedback loop. Internet communication has stripped us of this response. Unaware of this missing component in communication, we suffer from the cyber-disinhibition effect. On one end, cyber-disinhibition allows a person to self-disclose too much information, creating the potential for victimhood, but on the other hand, it seems like an excuse/justification for torment.
This is a learning opportunity for you and a teaching moment for your child. Look for the signs of cyber-disinhibition in your social media threads. Things like oversharing, exaggerated comments and insistent commenting are all indicators that you, your child or their friends may have lost natural reserve.
The Myth of Anonymity
On its Twitter page, personal data security company LifeLock shares a ton of information about cybercrime against young people. In an article posted on the company’s website earlier this month, a 2011 study showed that of 4,000 cases of identity theft, the largest financial fraud happened to a 16 year old girl; the youngest victim was only five months old. The misconception that certain information is safe online because profiles are set to “private” is one with a huge cost. A private profile means nothing if someone you’re connected to wants to use personal information to hurt you or your child. This is when you should use Google to search for yourself and your child. Make sure to look at the images and videos also, as this is typically how identity thieves and pedophiles begin their search for unsuspecting victims.
Cyber bullying is defined as “repeated, intentional abuse using electronic technology.” Parents are concerned about peer victimization, which can be the result even if the abuse only happens once; it is just as detrimental to your child’s psyche. As a general rule of thumb, teach kids that if it is unacceptable behavior in the real world, it is also unacceptable behavior in the virtual community.
Falsehoods are a big red flag for most parents. In real life, lies tend to be easier to catch but of the Internet they run rampant. Studies show that more than 70 percent of adolescents say that they have misrepresented themselves online. If you find that your child is using his or her social networks to misrepresent themselves or anyone else, use it as an opportunity to discuss self-esteem and how our actions affect others, even if unintentional.
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