Social Media Safety for Kids
Courtesy of Prevent Child Abuse Florida
In 2009, Hope Sitwell, a 13-year-old from Ruskin, Florida hanged herself after being tormented online for a provocative picture she “sexted” to her boyfriend that was then shared with students at six different schools. Tragically, Hope’s story is not rare. According to the Cyber-bullying Research Center, about 25 percent of children surveyed have experienced cyber-bullying in their lifetime. Here we’ll cover the definition of cyber-bullying and its warning signs, look at some of the effects it can have, and explore some ways we can help solve this issue.
Cyber-bullying can be defined as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. We have all heard a family member or acquaintance say, “I was bullied when I was a kid and I turned out just fine,” or “Kids these days need to toughen up.” However, cyber-bullying is different from the playground bullying we remember. There is no hallway monitor to stop a mean comment from being posted on social media; anonymity gives bullies the freedom to inflict harm without the fear of getting caught.
Kids and teens cannot even find a safe haven at home, as assaults can happen 24 hours a day, no matter where they are. The full spectrum of cyber-bullying can occur not only on social networks, but also through chat rooms, blogs, and online games. Hope Sitwell never told her parents about the “Hope Hater Page” that her tormentors created, leading to additional abuse by people she didn’t even know. The effects of bullying can run deep, and with no cuts or bruises to show the damage, the signs can be missed.
Here are some indicators that a child may be a target of cyber-bullying:
- They unexpectedly stop using their devices
- They seem anxious when using their device or receiving a notification
- They appear angry, depressed, or frustrated after going online
- They lose interest in things that matter most to them
- They become unusually secretive, especially when it comes to online activities
Just as importantly, parents and caretakers need to be aware that their child may be the bully. It is tough to admit that your child could be saying or doing hurtful things to another, but it is just as important to look for the warning signs.
Your child could be involved with cyber-bullying if they display some of these behaviors:
- Quickly switches screens or hides their device when you are nearby
- Laughs indecently at their device, but refuses to show you what is so funny
- Appears to be using an account that is not their own
- Demonstrates insensitivity towards other teens
- Appears overly concerned with maintaining their status in a particular social circle
Children who are cyber-bullied are more likely to use drugs and/or alcohol, skip school, experience in-school bullying, receive poor grades, have lower self-esteem, and experience depression or suicidal thoughts.
It is easy to report suspected cyber-bullying as abuse. This link provides a list of commonly used websites and their individual report links: cyberbullying.org/report. If your child is being abused, alert their school officials and the parents of the other children involved to stop it. Most importantly, it is vital to address these issues with your child. Victim or perpetrator, it is up to us to provide the guidance and support our kids need.