1/30/07 – Few of us made it out of school without either being bullied or being the bully. You can guess which one I was. Fortunately for me, the extent of the bullying was limited to being shoved into walls and having books knocked out of my hands. In high school I was called Buck Rogers on a city bus by a loudmouth whose face I can still see in my mind. He called me this because back then, believe it or not, I had a nice head of hair. Unfortunately, I combed it like Gil Gerard in the television series Buck Rogers. If only I had had Buck's nifty laser gun, I would have zapped that guy to another dimension.
The newest stats show that kids today prefer to do their bullying in an arena that didn't exist when we were kids--cyberspace. Why knock a kid in the nose when you can just torture them from the safety of a computer? Why demand lunch money when you can harass on the net? E-mails and instant messages are the new weapons of choice.
Fortunately, there is something that parents can do to protect their children. However, it won't be the solution your techno savvy child wants to hear. A parent need to severely limit their child's exposure to technology such as the internet. Most kids have no reason to have constant access to the world wide web, instant messages, and e-mails. Parents need to start taking responsibility for this.
An easy solution is a cell phone designed for kids that only allows them to dial a handful of numbers that you preprogram. My kids have one and no one has that number but me. In the worst case scenario, they can call 911 in an emergency. There is no reason why they should have a cell phone with a key pad that can potentially reach anyone on earth. No instant messages, no voice mail. Just the basics, if ANYTHING at all. The phone is a tool, not a toy, and kids need to learn and understand that.
Even more importantly, kids have to be monitored more closely at home. What adult in their right mind thinks it's a good idea for a teen or pre-teen to post their picture and personal information on any of these popular socializing websites?!?! Why would you let your child do this? Put your foot down for goodness' sake! The net is a portal to everything wonderful and horrifying all at the same time. You wouldn't just hand your kids the keys to such a powerful tool, would you?
If you can't be there for your kids, then they can't get on the web. Period. And when they start surfing the web independently of you, then they do their surfing on a communal desk in a communal area. No doors, no locks, no disappearing by themselves for hours on end.
If they must surf the web in their own rooms, then the doors should remain open and the screen should face the door. This way a parent can always check in as they walk by the child's room. No chance for the child to play dumb and click out of a window they know they shouldn't be on.
All these steps are useful ones to keep kids away from porn, perversion and all the things you want to protect them from online. But it also protects them from cyber bullies. You take measures to keep rats out of the attic. We unfortunately have to take similar measures to keep bullies out of our children's lives.