Pre-teens and teens begin social networking, creating and uploading comments (blogs, videos, pictures), downloading music and other files, researching subjects for school, chatting on IM, video-chatting, and more. In short, kids are leading digital lives.
At this age, the Internet is no longer a solitary or passive experience. For preteens and teens, the Internet is social. Teens are using the Internet to express themselves and to experiment anonymously with different identities. While the desire to strike out on their own is age-appropriate, these kids still need parental guidance on how to conduct themselves safely online.
Tragic stories of cyber-bullying seem to be a daily news staple in today's world. While cyber-bullying can devastate kids and families, news stories often focus on the worst cases. What's missing is a full picture of the cyber-bullying environment. Unlike a playground brawl in which a bully targets one victim, cyber-bullying is often a group undertaking, with an entire network of kids participating. Kids play different roles: bullies, victims, bystanders, and up standers. This means that broad-stroke solutions to cyber-bullying like telling your kids to get off Facebook or making them give up their cell phones won't work. Online communication tools are part of the fabric of kids' lives. It also means families might need to accept that even if their kid is being victimized, he or she may not always have acted saintly online. Our tips can help prevent, protect, and deal with cyber bullying, regardless of the role your child has played. (Find more cyber bullying tips for all ages.)
Essential tips for parents:
Teach your kids empathy. Nothing drives home a point faster than walking a mile in someone else's shoes. If your kids truly understand what someone else is going through, they're less likely to bully someone.
Help kids understand the line between funny and cruel. Kid's online communication is often purposely ambiguous or accidentally cruel - both of which can lead to misunderstandings. If drama is brewing, ask your kid to call or speak face to face with their friend to clear it up.
Make sure they talk to someone (even if it's not you). As kids enter the middle school years, their circle of friends and trusted adults widens. Kids need a responsible adult to confide in - their school counselor, their music teacher, even the parent of a friend. Talk to your kid about who they can go to if trouble is brewing.
Help your kid be an up stander, not a bystander. Kids are hesitant to get involved, in case the bully turns their sights on them. But there are ways to allow your kid to work behind the scenes to reach out to the victim, get an adult involved, and prevent more cruel behavior.
Show your kid how to stop it. Tell kids not to respond or retaliate. Not feeding the bully can stop the cycle. And, if anything does happen, save the evidence.
Internet Safety Tips
- Never share names, schools, ages, phone numbers, or addresses.
- Never open an email from a stranger, it may contain viruses that can harm a computer.
- Never send pictures to strangers or view pictures that strangers send to you.
- Keep passwords private (except to parents).
- Tell a trusted adult if something mean or creepy happens on the Internet.
Strategies for a responsible and safer online life:
Visit age-appropriate sites. Find sites that promote learning, creativity, and that deepen your kids' interests. Also check out popular web sites before your kids visit them. Despite what your kids might tell you, social networks like MySpace or Facebook are not meant for preteens.
Minimize chatting with strangers. Tell your kids that people aren't always who they say they are on the Internet. Anyone can pose as a "buddy of a buddy." If kids are playing online games with people they don't personally know, they should be careful not to disclose personal information.
Help kids think critically about what they find online. Young people need to know not everything they see is true. You may wish to use safe-search settings or filtering software for younger kids. And you can always check browser histories to see where your kids have been.
If they wouldn't do it in real life, they shouldn't do it online. Remind them: Don't say mean things, and don't cheat in games or at school.
Have some rules about time and place. Set limits on the amount of time your kids spend online. Don't let them Instant Message (IM) while doing homework. Restrict time and sites for online gaming.
Agree on downloads. What music is okay? Which video sites? Don't just hand out your credit card information to your kids. If they need to buy something, you should be involved.
Talk about privacy. Remind your kids that when you post something online, they lose control of it. It can be cut and pasted and sent around the web. Show kids where privacy settings are on their favorite sites and help them think about the settings they should use.
Make sure kids feel safe reporting bad behavior. It doesn't have to be you, but if anything suspicious, mean, or scary happens, they need to know they won't get in trouble if they tell a trusted adult.
Be involved and view your own habits carefully. Parents are their role models for safe and smart use. Enjoy the good stuff together!