Here in Part 1 Kidlit Writer Tena T asks: How much do you really know about the cyberbullying of tweens and digital media safety? Do you know what to do to keep your tween from becoming a victim? It doesn’t matter if your tween goes to a traditional school or is homeschooled. Cyberbullying can happen 24/7, seven days a week . . . no face-to-face interaction required.
Tweendom is a confusing and chaotic transition period sometimes with intense fluctuations in behavior. Tweens begin to see themselves as separate from their families. They question their parents’ ideas and values, assessing them based on the ideas and values of their friends.
It’s important to know that the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision-making, isn’t fully developed until the early-mid twenties, so tweens are not fully equipped to make the right decisions. They may “follow the pack” and do what their friends are doing instead of deciding for themselves if something is right or wrong. They may think a mean or threatening text message, picture or video posted online is a joke or a game rather than realizing how it can become dangerous or harmful to others. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard about cyberbullying victims committing suicide.
For tweens, their social status and friends are of utmost importance along with school, classes, teams and other organized activities. Tweens are looking for relationships and identity through group entertainment events and social networking. This is why tweens are so susceptible to cyberbullying.
The Truth About Truman School by Dori Hillestad Butler is about how two tweens started a website with good intentions, but how other tweens turned it into a cyberbullying nightmare. This book is a classic example of tween-on-tween cyberbullying. The author recommended these websites:
- And the largest and oldest online safety, education and help group in the world wiredsafety.com
Another recommendation is Journal of a Schoolyard Bully: Cyberbully by Farley Katz. Notorious bully, Niko Kaylor, moves to a new town and a new school where he learns a new way to bully – cyberbullying. He terrorizes his fellow students as well as adults, but then the tables are turned and he finds out the hard way what it’s really like to be on the receiving end of cyberbullying. This satirical and sometimes amusing book is told from the perspective of the bully. And it contains line drawings by the author who is a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker.
Let’s take a look at exactly what cyberbullying is and the variety of forms this frightening trend can take. It is defined as online aggressive, intimidating, harassing behavior using electronic technology – devices such as cellphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers – to mistreat, embarrass, humiliate, and even threaten someone. And it’s often perpetrated by peers – in our discussion, tweens doing it to tweens.
It’s so easy because it can be done anonymously. A tween who might otherwise not be openly mean to someone may feel emboldened to do so because the threat of getting caught, in the tween’s under-developed prefrontal cortex, is nonexistent. Tweens think they’re invincible and don’t often consider the consequences of their actions. The nasty rumors, comments or embarrassing photos are quickly distributed to a wide audience and can often be difficult to trace, though now-a-days there are measures that can be taken to help thwart or even prevent cyberbullying (get my FREE list of 10 top-rated Apps to combat cyberbullying – just click on the icon at the top of the column on the right side of this page).
Nancy Willard (for The Center of Safe & Responsible Internet Use) defines 8 categories of specific cyberbullying behavior:
- Flaming – taking part in online arguments using angry or offensive language (and I, Kidlit Writer Tena T, would like to add using CAPITAL letters, images and symbols with an emotional impact. Flaming can also just be talking trash about someone and/or offending them without actually taking part in an argument. Flamers often play Devil’s Advocate and start arguments about topics that tweens are emotionally vested in. Trolls are similar in that they post comments that have nothing to do with a particular discussion just to cause trouble, arguments and upheaval.)
- Harassment – repeatedly sending frightening and/or offensive messages/images/videos
- Denigration – posting false information in an attempt to damage a person’s reputation or relationships
- Impersonations – pretending to be someone else causing trouble using the stolen identity
- Outing – revealing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information online
- Trickery – tricking someone into revealing private information and then revealing it
- Exclusion – deliberately excluding a person from an online group
- Cyberstalking – using online media to stalk and frighten someone
Now that we have a clear vision of our enemy – what can we do to combat cyberbullying? In Part 2 I’ll discuss the important steps you need to take to help your tween become a responsible digital citizen and a champion of digital safety.
Did you find Part 1 of my combatting cyberbullying helpful? Do you know others who have tweens in their lives that would benefit from this information as well? Please feel free to share this with them by clicking on any of the share buttons below, like Facebook, and invite them to visit this website. If you have any comments, please be sure to share them here on my blog and we can get a discussion rolling on this very important topic. Scroll down to “Leave A Reply” at the bottom of this page. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to reading what you have to share.
Here in Part 2 of Tweens and Cyberbullying I ask: WHAT CAN WE, AS ADULTS, DO TO HELP OUR MIDDLE GRADE TWEENS COMBAT CYBERBULLYING?
Dr. Michael Carr-Greg explains what we can do in this short video:
1. COMMUNICATION – The key to any relationship
- Calmly discuss and define what cyberbullying is and how it makes people feel.
- Be open, honest and direct – start talking, when the kids are young, about social media, texting, their online reputation, whether or not they’ve been cyberbullied or seen someone else being cyberbullied.
- And talk often – there are always new apps popping up and new discussions you should be having with your tweens to keep them safe online.
- Being a good digital parent, educator or caregiver can be arduous and you may at times feel inundated with all the info that’s out there. Check out fosi.org and their article on Parenting Hacks. They also have a “contract” that parents and tweens can sign regarding their online activities, as well as many other helpful articles, tips and ideas about digital safety.
- Be a good example – though your tweens may appear to be ignoring you, they ARE watching you – you are communicating through your actions – if it’s ok for you to behave a certain way online, then your tweens will believe it must be acceptable online behavior for them as well – if you’re obsessed with your social media, texting, etc, then your tween will believe that’s normal online behavior.
2. CONTROL – Parental controls are key to combatting cyberbullying
SET GROUND RULES:
- Location Limitations – WHERE NOT to use their tech for social purposes – at the table when eating, in the bathroom, in class or any school activities, in church or other religious location, any place that prohibits the use of digital tech, any place that you have stated is a prohibited location, and most
importantly, not ALONE in their bedroom. You MUST monitor their screen time. Monitoring in person or via one of the apps I have listed in my FREE list of 10 top-rated apps is one of the best ways you can help and protect the tweens in your life.
- Tweens need to use their phones/tablets/computers in a “common” area, such as the livingroom, where it is visible. This also includes charging their devices. You need to be on top of things and that requires you to monitor your tween when they’re using their digital media. If you have open and honest communication with your tween, then you should have access to their devices at any time, that includes knowing the passwords, user names, etc. Tell your tween that you will only use them in case of an emergency. Make sure they tell you if/when they change them. Remember, you’re the parent and your tween is still a child with limited expectations of privacy. That doesn’t mean you should abuse this right. You can “friend” your tween on Facebook, for example, but that doesn’t mean you should stalk them. Check out my 10 top-rated apps for combatting cyberbullying by clicking on the image at the bottom of this blog. Some of those apps provide excellent monitoring capabilities.
3. COACHING – Education is the key to understanding
- Educate YOURSELF first – check out the games, apps and sites that your tween is using for yourself to determine if they are acceptable. After doing so, YOU decide which sites are ok and those which are off-limits. Discuss your decision with your tween(s) so he/she understands how you’re helping him/her be safe and smart online.
- RESEARCH what you, the adult, don’t understand. While you’re monitoring your tweens online activities, particularly texting and online chatting, you will come across what appears to be totally illegible abbreviations and symbols. In one of my email newsletters I will be providing some help with that.
- Tweens need to learn:
- Threatening messages/images/videos, etc, posted as jokes or games can become dangerous or damaging to others.
- NEVER share passwords, even with your closest friends. Only your parents or guardians should know the passwords. I’ll be discussing tactics to improve password safety in one of my email newsletters, but sure to sign up.
- LIMIT the amount of personal info your tween puts online. Once something is posted online, it’s there forever, even if you think you’ve deleted it.
- WHO does your tween want to see what he/she posts online? Complete strangers? Only “real” friends? Friends of friends? How can you be sure “who” the person you’re online with really is?
- PRIVACY matters – keep private stuff private so it can’t be used against you (embarrassing photos, info that gets twisted and becomes hurtful to you, etc). Also beware of certain apps or sites which ask for one’s private info . . . read the fine print. Sometimes it’s not worth it.
- REPORT any cyberbullying, whether it’s your tween or if your tween witnesses someone else being cyberbullied. Your tween should report it to appropriate adults, whether that be their parents, the principal or law enforcement authorities. Let your tween know that if anything online makes them feel the least bit uncomfortable, they should tell an appropriate adult (you should provide a list). They should not feel embarrassed or ashamed to tell someone.
- Teach your tweens about being a good digital citizen. Here are some book recommendations for your tweens to read and activities for you to do together:
- Chrissa Stands Strong by Mary Casanova (An American Girl story – this was also made into a movie) – It’s a story about friendship and how that friendship is tested when cyberbullying comes into the picture. It’s also a story about forgiveness and learning from our mistakes. Chrissa and her friends have a good summer swimming in the lake and getting ready for swim team tryouts. But, girls can be very mean and nasty and Chrissa becomes the cyberbully’s target – awful texts and posts. Then the cyberbully attacks some of her friends and make them think that Chrissa is the cyberbully. She learns the importance of having open communication with her parents and that “telling on someone” isn’t the same as tattling on someone. “Tattling” is to get someone in trouble, whereas “telling” is for one’s own protection. This is a very important lesson for tweens to learn. The author does a great job of making this topic interesting for tweens to read about.
- Bullying.com by Joe Lawlor. From the back cover: Seventh grader Jun Li is a brilliant student, more comfortable around computers than people. But his world turns upside down when the principal accuses him of a cyberbullying incident. To prove his innocence, Jun has seven days to track down the true culprit. Jun’s investigation will bring him face-to-face with computer hackers, a jealous boyfriend, and more than one student who has been a victim of bullying. But he discovers along the way that everyone’s story is more complicated than it seems—and that the people he meets might have more in common than they think. There are a few twists along the way, but the ending has the most unexpected twist of all. Joe Lawlor has a terrific grasp of the middle grade, tween mindset making this story very realistic and one your tween can relate to.
- Bystander by James Preller – It’s a story about bullying rather than cyberbullying, but the concept of standing by and not doing anything to help someone else who is being bullied or cyberbullied is the same. This book will appeal to both girls and boys, but especially boys, particularly those who like baseball. Eric is the new boy in 7th grade who is befriended by Griffin. The more Eric gets to know Griffin, the more he realizes Griffin is bad news. He’s a liar, a thief and a bully. Eric wants to do the right thing, but knows getting on Griffin’s bad side is making himself a target. In one shocking incident Eric goes from being a bystander to the bully’s next victim. This is a story about how being a bystander is nearly the same as being the bully. The ending is realistic – there’s no punishment or forgiveness. The author does a great job in nailing the middle grade way of life and kids will be able to relate to this story.
- There’s a terrific kids online book series (6 books): Smart Kid’s Guide To . . . 1) Avoiding Online Predators; 2) Doing Internet Research; 3) Internet Privacy; 4) Online Bullying; 5) Playing Online Games; and 6) Social Networking Online, all by David J. Jakubiak. These are nonfiction and worthwhile for teaching online safety. These are great for you and your tween to read together. And terrific for teachers or librarians to use for reading centers.
- Cyberbullying: Activities to Help Children and Teens to Stay Safe in a Texting, Twittering, Social Networking World by Vanessa Rogers. Hands on activities to do together. If you have a tween(s) who’s not really into reading, then these activities may be just what you’re looking for. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you are sure to find something to interest your tween(s).
- Here are some online sites which provide extensive resources regarding cyberbullying: http://stompoutbullying.org http://nobullying.com http://netmums.com http://cyberbullying.org http://antibullyingpro.com http://rethinkwords.com http://stopcyberbullying.gov and http://stopcyberbullying.org
4. Combat Tactics – The key to helping the cyberbullied tween
If the tween(s) in your life is the victim of a cyberbully here are 4 steps to combat that cyberbully. These were mentioned by Dr. Michael Carr-Greg in the above video and are also recommended by experts. Some of the apps I have provided in my FREE 10 top-rated apps list help you with accomplishing these combat tactics (just click on the image at the bottom of this blog).
- STOP – Do NOT respond to a cyberbully or forward/share any online posts (jokes, games, etc), pictures/images, videos that the cyberbully has sent.
- BLOCK – Follow the procedures for the site your tween is on to BLOCK the offender and, most importantly, SAVE the evidence – record the dates/times, a description of the incident. You can print out screenshots, emails, texts, etc, or use one of the apps I have in my list of 10 top-rated apps to combat cyberbullying that can save the evidence for you.
- REPORT – Report the incident to appropriate adults…you should provide a list to your tween(s). Tweens should not feel embarrassed, scared or ashamed to ask for help. These adults can be parents/guardians/caretakers, educators, guidance counselors, principals or other school officials. The adults can then determine who to turn over the evidence to whether that be law enforcement officials and/or the service provider being used. Facebook, Twitter, one’s phone service provider – these all have terms of service which cyberbullying violates. Social media sites, etc, have the responsibility to take action against abusers. Some cyberbullying acts are crimes, such as, threats of violence, posting pictures taken in places where there is the expectation of privacy, stalking, hate crimes, child porn or sexually explicit messages or photos/images.
- SUPPORT – Let your tween know that they are NOT to blame. Give them love and understanding. Build their self-esteem because cyberbullying, if allowed to continue, causes lower self-esteem and increased depression or health problems due to stress. Cyberbullying can cause tweens to have feelings of powerlessness. They may become unwilling to attend school (or skip school without parents knowing) and their grades may drop. The cyberbullying could lead to physical bullying. In extreme cases tweens may turn to drugs or alcohol to dull the pain or even resort to suicide.
You don’t want to let the tweens in your life get that far down the rabbit hole. If you closely follow these steps to combat cyberbullying you can help protect your middle grade tween from the heartache, embarrassment and shame (or worse) that cyberbullying can cause.
Do you have a cyberbullying story you would like to share? Or questions about cyberbullying that weren’t answered here? Or just have a comment? Scroll down to “Leave A Reply” below and let me hear from you. Also, be sure to let your friends, relatives and coworkers with tweens in their lives know about my blog so they can benefit from this info, too. You can share this info by using the Share buttons, such as Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you and truly appreciate your input.