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2010 July 27 - 12:00 am

TECHNOLOGY TODAY: Resources Available To Fight Growing Cyberbullying Trend

No doubt all of us have less-than-fond memories of recent or more distant instances in which we’ve seen someone stronger who unfairly and cruelly intimidated, ridiculed or otherwise took advantage of someone weaker. Perhaps you were once a victim of bullying, or even a perpetrator.

Like many other aspects of life, bullying has moved online.

Among the most atrocious of recent incidents is the case of a hacker from Santa Ana, Calif., who was arrested by the FBI in June for commandeering hundreds of PCs through the Internet to extort sexually explicit material from women and girls.

The hacker’s tactics included breaking into the victims’ email account and, pretending to be their boyfriends, asking them to take sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves. The hacker also demanded such material by threatening to release sensitive personal data he found about them on their PCs to classmates, parents, husbands, bosses and others in their email address book.

This is an extreme case. More run-of-the-mill cyberbullying involves posting false and embarrassing information about a person or encouraging others to gang up on that person in posting disparaging remarks.

Cyberbullying is increasing, with 10 percent of middle school students reporting having been cyberbullied over the previous 30 days, according to the 2009 book “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying” by Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin. The authors, affiliated respectively with Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, also run the Cyberbullying Research Center (www.cyberbullying.us).

The National Crime Prevention Council indicates that cyberbullying affects nearly half of all American teenagers (www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying).

Though cyberbullying victims have been as young as seven years of age, a number of studies have shown that it increases with childrens’ age. In adults, similar behavior goes by the names cyberstalking or cyberharassment.

Cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying in that the perpetrators are often anonymous and the locales where the bullying takes place are often largely unsupervised.

Mary Kay Hoal, founder of Yoursphere.com (yoursphere.com), a social network for kids and teens, offers these tips for parents to help detect cyberbullying in their children and to help their children deal with it:

  • Check for withdrawn behavior. Children who are being bullied may be reluctant to go to school or use the computer, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

  • Look for signs of depression. Kids often feel that something is wrong with them when they are being bullied, and they may feel all alone.

  • Teach your children to “Be Kind Online.”

  • Give your kids tools to protect themselves. Tell them that bullies thrive on the reaction they get from their victims. Kids shouldn’t respond. Tell them also that it’s always the bully who has the real problem.

  • Get school officials involved when appropriate or, if your child is threatened with harm, law enforcement officials. Have kids make copies of harassing posts. Even if senders appear anonymous, they can often be tracked.

Parents of bullies are often unaware of their child’s behavior. Their being informed is often all it takes to stop the abuse.

Elizabeth K. Englander, a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State College and founder of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (webhost.bridgew.edu/marc), offered these tips to parents of cyberbullies in a New York Times blog:

  • Understand that children often type shocking things that they would never say in person.

  • Have your child read accounts online about some of the devastating consequences that have happened as a result of cyberbullying. Phoebe Prince (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebe_Prince) and Megan Meier(en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megan_Meier) were teenage girls who both committed suicide after being cyberbullied.

  • Limit your child’s access to the site where the bullying took place until he demonstrates that he understands the situation. Give access back in stages, initially monitoring his online behavior closely.

  • Apologize to the victims’ parents, recognizing that they may not instantly forgive your child. But wait some months before having your child apologize to the victim, who may experience the apology as a veiled threat.

CyberBully Alert (www.cyberbullyalert.com) is software program that helps document cyberbullying by saving a screen shot of the computer when the child clicks on the CyberBully Alert icon. The cost is $14.95 per year and it can be used on up to three computers per home.

Here are three other useful sites about bullying, both online and offline:

  • Stop Bullying Now!, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids)

  • Dealing with Bullies, from the Nemours Foundation (kidshealth.org/kid/grow/school_stuff/bullies.html)

  • Bullying, from Education.com (www.education.com/topic/school-bullying-teasing)

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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