By Brittany Hanson/Garden Grove Journal
What would you do if a schoolyard bully pushed you down, stole your lunch money or threw you in a trash can? What would you do if a supposed friend destroyed your reputation with one e-mailed photo or a mass text message? How would you respond if your child or a friend was made a victim through the Internet?
These are all questions that have come to a national level of attention over the last few months as issues with teens and children relating to the cyber world have come up.
To address these kinds of questions, Terri Rocco, the Garden Grove Unified School District parent and community outreach supervisor and staff put together a course on how parents can help students and how students can help themselves stay safe from bullies and predators.
The program, titled “The Power of Parents: Cyberbullying and Internet Safety,” was held at Santiago High School in Garden Grove on Jan. 27 and had presentations by violence prevention educator Robin Lewis, Clinical Psychologist Gerardo Canul, Ph.D, and consultant Clay Roberts.
Many parents in attendance, when asked if they knew what social networking pages were, used the Internet regularly or fully understood texting did not raise their hands.
Even more were not familiar with trends related to the use of this kind of technology, such as “sexting,” which is the use of provocative pictures or messages sent through text messages.
So how do parents arm themselves to protect their children against misuse of technology? By taking the time to educate themselves. Lewis named sites such as www.NetSmartz.org and its parent site www.themissingkids.com with the Cybertipline to report online abuse and predators, created through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children [NCMEC].
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has a site for helping children, teens and parents learn and start conversations about bullying and the use of technology at www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.
School bullies and youth predators now have new faces, more modern faces. A bully is no longer relegated to just the school halls and predators are not just strangers with candy. Technology has taken student-to-student abuse and the seeking of young victims to new levels.
Cyber bullying is the new tool that cruel students have in their pockets to torment their victims. With the advent of online social networking, such as www.facebook.com and through the use of texting, a bully can do more and wider spread damage to a reputation with the click of a button.
According to www.bullyingstattistics.org, “Cyber bullying can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Also, once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the pain of cyber bullying.
Many cyber bullies think that bullying others online is funny. Cyber bullies may not realize the consequences for themselves of cyber bullying.”
On a national level, bullying has recently been getting more attention and wider calls for it to come to an end. Recent cases of obtuse bullying have ended in victim’s suicide, sparking outrage from parents and concerned citizens.
One of the most recent noted cases was that of Meagan Meiers of St. Louis, Missouri, who killed herself at age 14 after an estranged friend and the friend’s mother, Lori Drew, created a fake profile of a boy named Josh.
After months of conversation and building a friendship “Josh,” actually Drew, told Meagan that the world would be better off without her. Meiers committed suicide that day.
The most common forms of cyber bullying involve the spreading of rumors, embarrassing photos, stolen social pages or even the creation of a fake social profile.
Robin Lewis said that the best things a student can do to protect themselves online is to make sure that their privacy settings on personal profiles are secured and that information about where they live or their phone number should not be posted.
“There is no reason that everyone should be able to see everything or even anything about you,” said Lewis, “This is the same idea as we don’t leave our front doors open to just let anyone on in to nose around. You have to be invited.”
Lewis said that parents need to talk to children, no matter how young, about not responding to unknown Internet contact through email or instant messaging. Also, that meeting someone from the Internet face to face should never happen alone and that computers should be kept in a public space in the home, where everyone can see and use them.
“You need to be warned that having that much access isn’t something that they [children and teens] should have alone. There is no need for that much privacy in their lives,” said Lewis.
A study from the NCMEC reports that, “Based on interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,501 youth ages 10 to 17 who use the Internet regularly, approximately one in five received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet in the last year. One in thirty-three received an aggressive sexual solicitation and three fourths had a solicitor who asked to meet them somewhere; called them on the telephone; sent them regular mail, money, or gifts.”
According to the same study, “About one quarter of the youth who encountered a sexual solicitation or approach told a parent.”
The NCMEC said that only 17 percent of youth and approximately 10 percent of parents could name a specific authority [such as the FBI, CyberTipline, or an Internet service provider] to which they could make a report, although more said they had “heard of” such places.
When it comes down to what parents can do to help their kids, or what kids can to do talk to their parents, it doesn’t matter whether to problem is online or in the real world, Gerardo Canul said, establishing communication is key. Creating a safe space or a sense of trust, respect and willingness to work on both sides is the integral key to working together.
It might be hard, said Canul, it might be frustrating for everyone, but it has to happen.