Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's 9:15, do you know where YOUR kid is?

Of course I do, she's sitting right here. On her laptop, Facebooking.  But you may not know as much as you think.  Read on...

In January, 15 year old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts, entered the national spotlight when she committed suicide, it raised a multitude of questions about bullying. How can this happen? Where were the adults? Why didn't anybody DO something?   Others took the another view; come one, it's just kids! Kids will be kids...hey, I was bullied and I never tried to kill myself! Phoebe's story was a sad one. A teenager who suffered for months of constant bullying. On May 3, 2010, anti-bullying laws were passed in Massachusetts. But not soon enough to help Phoebe.

The reality is, there are many factors that contribute to a person making the forever decision to end their life. Phoebe's death was surely tragic and unnecessary.  But this blog is not about suicide prevention. That will be a topic for another day.  What reading this story really made me think long and hard about, is bullying. And the new and horrible ways kids are using technology to bully each other. 

Teens are sometimes the most difficult group to engage in psychotherapy, especially if they didn't ask for help.  I often acknowledge to them that I would not go back to being in high school for "a million bucks" and that they have it so much harder than my generation did when I was in school. Yes, bullying was around when I went to Spring-Ford High School in the 80s.  To be honest, I encountered bullying first hand when I was in 10th grade, when a group of older girls bullied me for - well, I am still not sure why.  I am one of the lucky ones. With the help of my parents and the school, I was able to work things out and it didn't last.  I can't imagine having this day in- day out and having to cope with that type of rejection. And I can't imagine the pain that Phoebe Prince was feeling the day she ended her life.

Being a kid today is tough. Plain and simple. 

The latest generation of kids has found ways to use the latest technology to engage in bullying. This relatively new phenomenon is called, aptly, "cyberbullying".  If you think it's not a problem, think again.

Here's how it happens:  According to the National Organization for Victim's Assistance (NOVA) reports that "kids will commonly send hurtful text messages to others or spread rumors using cell phones or computers. Kids have also created web pages or profile pages on social networking sites making fun of others. With cell phones, adolescents have taken pictures in a bedroom, a bathroom, or other locations where privacy is expected, and posted or distributed them online. More recently, some have recorded unauthorized videos of other kids (or adults) and uploaded them for the world to see, rate, tag, and discuss." Cyberbullying can take a heavy toll on kids. Research has shown that it can affect self-esteem, and can cause kids to feel sad, angry and afraid and embarrassed. Here are some things to consider:

According to NOVA, a child or teenager may be a victim if he or she:
  • unexpectedly stops using the computer;
  • appears nervous or jumpy when an instant message or email appears;
  • appears uneasy about going to school or outside in general;
  • appears to be angry, depressed, or frustrated after using the computer;
  • avoids discussions about what they are doing on the computer;
  • or becomes abnormally withdrawn from usual friends and family members.
A child or teenager may be a cyberbully if he or she:
  • quickly switches screens or closes programs when you walk by;
  • gets unusually upset if computer privileges are reduced;
  • avoids discussions about what they are doing on the computer;
  • or appears to be using multiple online accounts (or an account that is not their own).
In general, if your child acts in ways that are inconsistent with their usual behavior when using the computer, it's very important to ask questions and find out WHY.

In order to prevent cyberbullying:
  • If your kids are using the Internet, you must educate them about appropriate online behaviors (and kids must follow the rules)
  • Monitor their activities while online. If your kid is on Facebook, you'd better be one of their Facebook friends! (or have a close family member do it) in order to monitor their activity.
  • In addition, you can use an "Internet Use Contract" and/or a "Cell Phone Use Contract"  (I have posted the links below) to lay out the rules and expectations. 
  • Kids need to learn that inappropriate online actions will not be tolerated. If they break the rules, follow though on the consequences
  • If you discover that your child is cyberbullying others (yes, it could happen), be sure to let your child know how their behavior affects others whether it is the "real world" or in "cyberspace". The anonymity of the Internet often allows people to do/say things they would not say in a face to face interaction. 
  • Firmly enforce consequences; structure is how kids learn the boundaries!
  • If an incident was particularly serious, you may want to install tracking or filtering software as a consequence.
  • Moving forward, it is essential to pay even greater attention to the Internet and cell phone activities of your kids to make sure that they have internalized the lesson and are acting in responsible ways.
Don't be afraid to ask for help!

To visit the National Organization for Victims' Assistance (NOVA) website rergarding Cyberbullying, use the link:

To download the cell phone use contract and the Internet use contract, use the links below:


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