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Cyberbullying: Your Kids Need You on Their Side

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Whichever angle you look at it, bullying of any type is bad. Before social media existed, however, kids only had to be worried about being harassed while the bully was physically present. For kids in the digital age, though, bullies can pester them 24 hours a day through cell phone calls, text messages, and now Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social networking sites. To add to their torment, not only can the bullied child see this harassment, but all of their friends can as well. At such an impressionable age, the stress created by knowing that everybody is watching you be bullied can often make the problem worse.

Social media does many great, positive things, whether it's raising awareness about important issues like cyberbullying, helping small business owners reach customers, or helping people make connections they never thought they would. While these are huge benefits, there is clearly a dark side to social media as well.

Here are a couple of sad facts: about half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying themselves. Over half also report that they have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.

Because of these frightening statistics, courts have started taking cyberbullying seriously. On April 4th, the Maryland Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill that would make it a crime to harass a minor online. Appropriately titled "Grace's Law," this bill is named after 15-year-old Grace McComas. McComas committed suicide on Easter Sunday of last year after being relentlessly bullied online by a neighbor. Because of Grace's Law, someone who harasses a minor based on sex, race, or sexual orientation could face up to a year in jail and a $500 fine. Minnesota, Florida, and Iowa have proposed similar bills as well.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has shown an immense amount of support for Grace's Law. In March, Rice wrote a letter to the Maryland Judiciary Committee, saying, "Cyberbullying has gotten out of hand. We need to act... NOW!" He goes on to say how he receives hundreds of messages each week from kids and teen that are bullied to the point of contemplating suicide because of the things said about them on social media. He believes that youth culture needs to be changed so that children understand that their words have consequences.

While these are great strides taken in attempt to stop cyberbullying, parents themselves need to learn to spot the signs of a child that is being harassed. Sadly, parents aren't as aware of this threat as they should be. Studies estimate that only 7 percent of parents are worried about cyberbullying.

If at all possible, parents should try to prevent cyberbullying before it happens. The best way for parents to do this by communicating with their child.

Communication is the Key:

It may sound simple, but it's not necessarily easy. Every strategy to prevent and respond to cyberbullying is rooted in communicating with our kids, not talking at them.

Preventing Cyberbullying Takes:

• Staying aware of threats to your kids even as those threats continue to change

• Talking to your kids about your family's rules about security and privacy online

• Communicating with your kids so that you are a trusted adult they can talk to at once if they become the victim of cyberbullying

• Keeping that relationship with your kids strong so they know that you are on their side, will help protect them, and will respond appropriately to anyone who bullies them

It's important for your kids to know that if you're providing the resources for them to be online, whether via smart phone or computer at home, you reserve the right to monitor their online activity -- for their own safety.

If you think this is too much of a breach of privacy, realize that you're also teaching them to think about their online posting -- before it affects their ability to get a job or get into college. When they enter the work world, I guarantee their employer will reserve that very same right.

If you do monitor your kids' online activity, it's important to know what to confront them about and what to let go. If you start to use it as a way to nitpick every single behavior you find bothersome, you'll risk them creating alternate accounts you know nothing about. It's important you realize that this is a tool for you to help protect your children -- use it while keeping that at the front of your mind.

Cyber Bullying Response: What to Do If Your Child is a Victim

Again, communication is the key. First, believe your child and the seriousness of the threat. Keep a record of the incidents and pursue appropriate responses from the school (if applicable), the parents, and local law enforcement if need be. It's critical that your children know that you are on their side and that this won't be tolerated.