On Sunday night I saddened by the NBC Nightly News story about Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12 year old Florida girl who jumped to her death after being a victim of cyberbullying for a year. While a dozen of her peers are being investigated, a sherrif spokeswoman said only two or three of them may have been involved in the bullying which took place social networking apps that Rebecca accessed on her mobile phone.
Why were there so many who witnessed the cyberbullying but didn’t get involved? Why was a 12 year old on social networking sites when Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) is supposed to protect kids under the age of 13? Why were these kids so relentless about harassing Rebecca after she changed schools, deleted her email account, and established a new identity on social networking profiles? Why didn’t the one person who Rebecca confided in about committing suicide seek assistance?
There are so many questions that will never be answered but as a parent of two elementary aged children, it’s another reminder to continue the important conversation about what it means to be a good friend. My tween daughter dipped her toe into the world of online chatting last year when assigned homework through an online portal that featured a chat function for her class. When we first learned about the chat feature, we had a conversation about how your conversations online aren’t any different than the ones you have in person. We talked about helping friends online and off. We also discussed what to do if someone says something unkind online and how it’s always ok to tell adults.
Talking about being a good friend online and off is an important element of digital citizenship but what else can parents do? Where do you go for the best information? How do you teach your kids about this important topic in an age appropriate way? Is there a way for kids of all ages to be creative online in a safe way?
While nothing will bring 12 year old Rebecca Ann Sedwick back, these resources and tools can help you start conversations with your kids and their friends, teach them about cyberbullying in age appropriate ways, give them the ability to exercise their voice and creativity through safe online spaces, and assist you in keeping an eye on mobile devices in your home. Use these resources in your home and share them with your children and community to help combat cyberbullying.
Common Sense Media 1 of 7
Get educated. What are the issues that kids are facing in regards to cyberbullying? What platforms are being used and what do I need to know as a parent? CommonSenseMedia.org is a incredible resource for parents to become educated about cyberbullying. It features helpful tips on starting conversations, what to look for, and how to help your kids through the K-12 Digital Literacy & Citizenship Curriculum. There is also a treasure trove of articles with great advice for families about hard topics like 8 Essential Facebook Rules for Teens and Mean YouTube Comments Upset My Kid. What Should I Say?
Best for: Parents
Image courtesy of Common Sense Media
NetSmartz 2 of 7
Teach your kids about risks and rewards for being online in age appropriate ways. Netsmartz is a program by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that helps parents and kids navigate issues like cyberbullying but also sexting, social networking, online and mobile safety, and smartphones in age appropriate ways. It's helpful for parents who have kids of different ages because the site content is differentiated according to age. There's a different site kids, tweens, and teens and each does a fantastic job of presenting information in an age appropriate way that will be well received by the target audience.
Best for: Kids, Tweens, and Teens
Image coutesy of NetSmartz
MTV A Thin Line 3 of 7
Make digital drama less cool by knowing where to draw the line. Older kids may not think it's cool to talk to mom and dad about sexting, SnapChat, or any other digital drama in their but may listen to MTV who encourages kids to speak out about bullying, stand up rather than standing by, and taking a stand against digital abuse through their A Thin Line site that acknowledges that there's a very thin line between digital use and digital abuse. With video, celebrity content, and interactive elements, MTV's A Thin Line is the most helpful hip place online for older kids that sends a powerful message about one's digital rights and knowing where their personal line lies.
Best for: Teens
Image courtesy of MTV
Club Penguin 4 of 7
Give kids a safe online world to explore. Young kids who see their parents and older siblings on social networking sites are clamoring to use them too but lack the maturity to handle the emotions that can come with the interactions on such sites. Instead, Club Penguin is a great place for kids to learn about safe social networking and have positive interactions because of the company's commitment to their three pillars of safety: human interaction, technology & tools, and education. Account names are reviewed by individuals, not computers, to ensure that no personal information is being shared, Ultimate Safe Chat makes it more efficient for kids to communicate quickly and cuts down on accidental profanity from misspelled words, and one-click reporting tool allows Penguins to report each other for bad behavior.
Best for: Elementary Ages
Cost: Free or memberships can be purchased to access premium content beginning at $5/month.
Image courtesy of Club Penguin
KidVuz 5 of 7
Let them create content on a site that's just right for them. Kids love to talk about what they love and there are some great lessons to be learned from creating videos when done through a safe site like KidVuz. Designed with tweens in mind, KidVuz puts online child safety first by ensuring that accounts are approved by parents or another grown up before posting a video or leaving a comment on the site, real names aren't used as part of usernames, and each and every video is reviewed for bad words and other stuff kids shouldn't see by a KidVuz team member.
Best for: Tweens
Image courtesy of KidVuz
Safely Phone Controls 6 of 7
Let it be known that you have the power to review content on their mobile device. With mobile devices, cyberbullying is happening on smartphones, a connected iPod Touch, or tablet. If you're a parent paying for service, let your child know that the device is a privilege and with it comes certain expectations such as reviewing texts manually or through apps like Phone Controls from Safely.com. Phone Controls give parents easy-to-digest text and app reports, the power to block contacts and phone access, and support and resources, like a phone contract, that serves as a way to set expectations before they have their first mobile device in hand.
Best for: Parents
Image courtesy of Safely.com
Minor Monitor 7 of 7
Set up alerts to stay in the know. Not sure what your kid is doing on their mobile device? They're accessing their social networks and since the devices are small and portable, they're hard to monitor. If you've given your child a mobile device like a smartphone or iPod Touch, also let them know you'll be using a tool like MinorMonitor. MinorMonitor automatically tells parents what kids post on Twitterand who their friends are on Facebook to help you keep an eye on things to keep them safer.
Best for: Parents
Image courtesy of MinorMonitor
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