cyberbullying

Cyberbullying: Are We (the Parents) to Blame?

Written on October 18, 2013 at 3:27 pm , by

It’s an absolutely heartbreaking story—yet another youth, in this case 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Winter Haven, Florida, commits suicide after being relentlessly bullied online for months by her classmates.

But this time there’s a new twist to the lurid headlines: The local sheriff arrested two girls, ages 14 and 12, charging them with felony aggravated stalking after a message appeared in the Facebook feed of the older girl that read, “Yes Ik I bullied RECECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF” [translation: “I don’t give a (expletive)”]. The girl’s parents said someone had hacked into her FB account, but the sheriff isn’t buying it. In fact, he says he’d put them in jail if he could for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

You may think he’s gone way too far. Or you may feel he’s right on the mark. Either way, the sheriff has turned the spotlight and focused it on parents and their culpability when it comes to cyberbullying. When you stop and think about it, this has been the elephant in the room, the unspoken, taboo topic amid all the tragic teen suicides in the news: To what degree are parents to blame when their children become taunters, tormentors, emotional abusers and worse?

Normally in this space we chat about things moms should discuss with their children. Perhaps this is a topic we should start talking about with each other.

Is My Daughter Sexcasting?

Written on October 25, 2012 at 12:21 am , by

If you have followed some of the recent stories of cyberbullying that led to horrific consequences, you might be feeling as if your kids are living in a world you don’t understand and can’t control. Kids are taking their clothes off for strangers online, sending naked photos and videos of each other to huge groups, and engaging in other frightening online activities that sound unappealing, out of character and straight-up dangerous.

Why would they do this?

“If you think about it, sending video is pretty natural for this generation,” Lisa Shaw, senior editor of ParentingTodaysKids.com and senior director of Online Child Safety and Protection at SpectorSoft told me. My own kids grab video of our pets’ cute antics, of each other at parties, of things they want to remember, of anything they find amusing to share with friends. They grew up with cheap video cameras everywhere and access to video of everything from lessons in fixing a broken computer to how-tos on doing fabulous makeup to hilarious cat videos. When they start exploring more adult topics, video is probably as natural to them as it is cringe-worthy to my generation. And that’s why, says Shaw, an epidemic known as sexcasting is sweeping the tween and teenage groups. Sexcasting is the creation, sending and receiving of sexually suggestive or explicit videos across the Internet.

My daughter has access to video cameras, Internet, a smartphone, and a lively and engaged social network of friends. Does that mean she is in the other room sexcasting?

It certainly doesn’t seem like her style. But Shaw points out that a kid can have one personality at home, another at school and still another online. A 2011 AP-MTV Digital Abuse Study found that 15% of teens and young adults surveyed have sent naked photos or videos of themselves and 21% have received naked pictures or videos of others.

Call me deluded, but I still don’t think she is doing this. And here’s why: I explained the dangers of sending photos of any kind, but especially sexy or nude ones, to her before I let her have access to a computer with a webcam or a phone with a camera. And I do frequent “drive-bys” where I insist on seeing what’s on the screen right now. And I bring the many dangers up a lot—too much, according to my kids. I explained that there can be legal repercussions because trading naked photos of a minor online is illegal and kids have been prosecuted under pornography laws for sending photos to friends. I also explained that once a photo is on the Internet, you can’t get it back or control where it goes. Because of this, I often ask her to imagine how she would feel if her grandmother saw the photo she is thinking about posting. If she doesn’t want Nana to see it, she shouldn’t share it with anyone. And every time the devastating repercussions of sexting, bullying or anything else in this realm makes the news, we talk about it.

Also, as soon as I got off the phone with Shaw, I asked my daughter if she knew what sexcasting was and if she had ever done it. “That is disgusting!” she insisted. “I would never do that!” And I believe her. But, since we were already discussing it, I took the opportunity to share a fact Shaw had told me that I felt would create even more disincentive, just in case her peers—or anyone—ever pressured her to do something she would never do on her own. “That’s good,” I said. “Because 88% of the sexy photos that teens post get reposted to parasite porn websites. So even if you think you are only sending a photo or video to a friend, there is a very good chance that some gross pervert—or a lot of them—will see it too.”

This wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with my daughter. I’d much rather keep the conversation to school, new TV shows and how awesome her hair looks. But I don’t send her out into the real world without warning her about the dangers and giving her a guidebook on what to do and not to do to stay safe. And I don’t send her out on the Internet unprepared either.

“Talk to your kids about the dangers,” agrees Shaw. “No matter how uncomfortable the conversation makes you—or them.” If it’s easier to use the news as a starting point for a conversation like this, there is, unfortunately, plenty of fodder there these days.

If you see worrisome signs, suspect that your teen is engaged in risky behavior, or can’t be there to supervise their online adventures, you could install one of SpectorSoft’s computer or mobile tools (here is a coupon code for 25% off SpectorSoft products: FamilyCircle25) that watch everything they do online. This is a bit like installing security cameras on their online life.

Personally, though, I am a strong believer in taking the computer or phone away if I suspect it’s being used irresponsibly (even if that’s just because it’s being used too much). I provide it. I can take it back. And I do.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com. Follow her on Twitter, @xtinatynanwood.

 

Teens Stand Up Against Bullying

Written on January 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm , by

Guest blogger Shawn Edgington on the NO BULL Challenge.

“Mom, I can’t go back to school, they want to kill me!” These are the words every parent fears, and hopes never to hear.  As the mother of a teenage girl who received death threats by text and on her Facebook page, I know first-hand how difficult it is when cyberbullies target your child.  I also know how critical it is for parents and educators to take the right steps before a cyberbullying situation goes viral.

It’s difficult to know when to act, because more than 80% of the time, adults don’t really know what’s happening within a child’s online world.  That said, what is a parent or an educator to do if they aren’t aware when a child really needs help?  Teens are falling witness to cyberbullying incidents every day, and in most cases, make the decision to remain silent about what they see or read.

The important questions to ask yourself are:  Does your constantly connected teen know when to take a “friend’s” dark or desperate status update as a serious cry for help?  Can your teenager recognize a potentially unhealthy or dangerous post when they see one?  The unfortunate truth is, most of the time we are left to rely on another child’s online friends to intervene by getting help on their behalf, which isn’t happening enough.  This is why every teen needs to know what to watch out for, how to stand up for their peers, when to report and who to go to for help before it’s too late.

What can parents and educators do to empower teens to stand up and help their fellow students in need?  Have them take The Great American NO BULL Challenge, the largest student-led campaign to fight bullying and cyberbullying in America. The annual campaign inspires America’s 25 million teens to learn how to eliminate bullying from their lives by creating a video with an anti-bullying message.  Students and educators are provided all of the information they need to know about making a video, cyberbullying basics, standing up, prevention, and intervention tips via the online NO BULL Cyberbullying 411 toolkits. View one of the NO BULL teen created videos submitted at: http://nobull.votigo.com/contests/showentry/1016336

The NO BULL Challenge gives teenagers the chance to compete for $25,000 in prizes and the opportunity to have their winning videos introduced to the world at the star-studded NO BULL Teen Video Awards show in San Francisco, promoted by Live Nation.  At the Teen Video Awards gala, students will watch artists perform live and meet their favorite celebrities on the red carpet. The spotlight will shine on the student-made films pertaining to NO BULL, offer students the chance to win thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, and have their video presented center stage for the world to witness.

The Great American NO BULL Challenge is a massive collaboration between iSafe, National Organizations for Youth Safety, FCCLA, Dr. Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps, teenDailyStrength, 4-H, Students Against Destructive Decisions, The Anti-Defamation League, Business Professionals of America, Project Change, American School Counselor Association, The California Endowment and Health Happens Here, iKeepSafe.org, The Megan Meier Foundation, National Collaboration for Youth, The Bully Police Squad, Communities in Schools, and The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Formspring, among others.

Now through March 14th, students in the 6th through 12th grade can submit their video at www.nobullchallenge.org and at www.facebook.com/NOBULLChallenge.

There is one thing that I know for sure; if we can educate and inspire America’s teens on how to stand up for what is right and say “NO BULL!” to all of the online mayhem, we will be steps ahead on the war against cyberbullying.

–SHAWN EDGINGTON

Shawn Edgington is the Founder and President of the Great American NO BULL Challenge and the bestselling author of The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social Media:  Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World. Shawn is also the CEO of a national insurance firm in California where she lives with her family.