Cliques in cyberspace, bullying on Facebook, IM and Social Media

In our home, the computer lives next to the breakfast nook in full view of adults.  We have strict control over when and how our children use the computer. But the prevalence of cyberbulling is epidemic with children and teens both as victims and perpectrators. This is cliques taken to an extreme.

So far, our family computer experiences have been delightful where our children have Skype video calls with their grandparents in Florida or New York or where they learn to type, play math games and sometimes play other games on Lego, NickJr or PBS. But in 6th grade, my son will receive a laptop from his school and he will bring it home and use it.  Its unrealistic to expect that he will use it in public places.  So we have to establish ground rules now about computer etiquette and consequences for violations. 

According to the National Crime Prevention Council (from Common Sense Media).

  • 43% of children 13-17 report being cyberbullied in the last year
  • Most victims "know" but cannot see the bully
  • 53% of teens admit sending a nastygram
  • Only 10% of victims told their parents

As I said yesterday, the only person you can control and change is yourself. One of my readers asked what I would do about cyberbullying.

First - our school has a Code of Conduct for computer usage that explicitly discusses cyberbullying.  Every child is expected to sign it - starting in Kindergarten.  Common Sense Media reports that children in 2nd grade report cyberbullying - so it's not too soon to start.  It's important that educators teach students about appropriate behavior online. Parents should expect this of their schools.

Second -family rules of usage for the computer.  Ours include:

  • Mom and Dad have full access to your accounts - this will end at some point in high school
  • Only send and accept messages from people you know
  • Accept friend and buddy requests from people you know
  • Learn how to block people in IM, Skype, Facebook and anywhere else we permit you to be online
  • Do not send a message or a picture that you would not deliver in person, face to face. "Anything you post online, anyone can see.  Always."

If the rules are broken, the consequences are a complete loss of computer usage except in public spaces and only for school assignments.  Cell phone, if given, will be taken away.  First offense is one full week.  Second offense is a full month. If my child is a perpetrator of cyberbullying, the message/image they sent will be provided to the school and the victim's parents with a written apology from my child.  They will take responsibility for the pain they caused and the other child's parents will be able to help their child heal.  If they are bullied, we will teach our child first to ignore the attempts and defuse the situation. It if persists, we will teach them to take screen shots and report it to the school, parents (if known) and proper authorities (if required).

My third and final suggestion is to create/use a Family Media Agreement.  Common Sense Media offers one for K-5 age and one for grades 6-8.  When I was a teenager, my high school lost one student per year to drunk driving related accidents.  As a junior, a group of us formed a chapter of SADD - Students Against Driving Drunk. The cornerstone of SADD is the Contract for Life.  The process of reading, discussing, signing and abiding by this contract saved countless lives.  We'll read, discuss, sign and abide by our Family Media Agreement - and renew it annually.

What are you doing to help your child protect themselves from cyberbullying?