Parents beware! The new electronic toy or Internet access feature may be setting your child up to be cyber bullied. The Internet provides a new venue for teasing and bullying that may be even more damaging to the self-esteem of teens as "old-fashioned" bullying, and seems to be more prevalent among girls than traditional school-yard bullying. MySpace.com, Xanga.com, email, blogs, Internet Bulletin Boards, chat rooms, and instant messaging all provide cyber bullies with the means to harass their peers, usually anonymously. In fact, we think four times as many kids are bullied on the Internet as in real life.
This increased bullying via the Internet is another reason to have a safety contract and keep the computer at home in a public place. In addition, remind your children that they should never give away identifying information; and if someone bullies them online, they should: 1) not respond and stay calm; 2) keep the messages as evidence (and do not necessarily read them); 3) contact the Internet provider and local police about threatening or abusive content; 4) do not believe everything you see or read online; and 5) be selective about participating online with anonymous people.
I caution parents to not"over react" and pull the plug on the computer though - this will just guarantee your child does not ask for your help, or continues to participate at someone else's house. Instead, encourage your child to think about what they are getting from the online exchanges and be critical about whether or not the benefit is worth the pain and risk of cyber bullying.