(Family Features) For anyone with children or teenagers in the house, it’s no surprise that being online is the in thing to do. According to research studies conducted by The Nielson Company, approximately 16 million U.S. children ages two to 11 are active online. This shows an 18 percent increase over the past five years, while the overall Internet population only increased usage by 10 percent. Furthermore, the amount of time children spend online is 63 percent higher than just five years ago.
One problem that falls under the umbrella of Internet safety that children may face when they’re online, is cyberbullying. A cyberbully is a minor who uses the Internet, phone or other digital device to post hurtful messages or images to another minor.
Parry Aftab, executive director of the charity that runs StopCyberbullying.org says, “They do it by posing as each other, stealing or misusing their passwords, stealing points in online games. They call each other names, or send offensive messages to their friends while impersonating them. They even take embarrassing pictures of others and post them online.”
Cyberbullying affects children as young as seven and up through high school. According to a yearlong survey of students in the U.S. and Canada conducted by Aftab, results showed that:
-Cyberbullying starts as early as third grade, peaks in fourth grade and again in seventh and eighth grade.
-75 percent of teens reported cyberbullying someone else and 85 percent of students reported they had been targeted at least once in the past year.
When kids are still in grammar school, the direct attacks usually consist of making fun of each other and testing limits. In middle school, cyberbullies attack classmates’ reputations and it can escalate from there as children move into high school.
What Can Parents Do?Aftab recommends open communication between parents and children. “Encourage discussions about what they enjoy online,” she says. “This way you can direct your children to safe sites that fit their interests and it helps your children know you want an active role in their life.”
It’s important to make sure that your children feel comfortable coming to you with questions. This should apply to all situations including the computer. If your children feel they can trust you, they are more likely to come to you with tough problems and questions. A survey by WiredSafety found that only 5 percent of middle schoolers would tell their parents if they were cyberbullied, and that they have identified more than 50 different reasons not to tell their parents.
If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, the most important thing parents can do, says Aftab, is to give them a hug. “Tell them you love them and how sorry you are that they were hurt. Let them know that the
cyberbully is not the boss of them. And promise not to overreact and take away the technology or call the school, the other parents or the media and make things worse.”
The most important thing parents can do to protect children is to monitor computer and Internet usage. “Knowing you are watching, kids are less likely to put themselves in risky situations and you can safely oversee negative or dangerous behaviors,” says Aftab.
What Should Kids Do?
As part of its online community at buildabearville.com, Build-A-Bear Workshop promotes safety tips for kids that can be applied to any online experience.
Stop, Block and Tell
If someone is cyberbullying or trying to get personal information, Stop talking to them, Block them from talking to you and Tell a trusted adult.
Aftab also says, “To help them keep a healthy perspective they should ‘Take 5′ when something or someone upsets them online. That means they should do something they love offline for five minutes to help calm down and not do anything they will regret.”
Password Protection-Passwords should be easy to remember, hard to guess. If your kids have to write it down, it’s too hard to remember. If it’s a pet’s name, their middle name, their favorite sports team, etc., it’s too easy to guess. Sit down with your kids and talk about ideas for a password, and remember a combination of numbers and letters is always best.
-Don’t allow kids to give out their password to others. 85 percent of elementary school students and 70 percent of teens polled said they shared their password with at least one friend. That’s one friend too many!
-Friends can be cyberbullies too, signing onto your child’s account, impersonating them and possibly embarrassing them. They can also change your child’s password, locking them out of their account.
Build-A-Bear Workshop encourages kids and adults to get involved in making the Internet a safer place. Build-A-Bearville recently became one of the first to earn the Socially Safe Kids Seal, reserved for the sites whose moderators and game designers have all been trained on Internet safety and cyberbullying.
In addition to having suggested tips and resources for parents and kids available at buildabearville.com, the company has also incorporated the importance of safe play into their online play experience. Citizens of Build-A-Bearville are encouraged to take an Online Safety Quiz to receive a special hat for their avatar. They are also reminded of online safety tips in the Bearville Times, the site’s weekly newspaper.
Build-A-Bear Workshop also recognizes kids for being good citizens in the online world. Their Jr. CyBearGuide program allows qualified kid citizens of Build-A-Bearville to act as guides by answering questions, providing information and even giving tours. If you or your child is interested in becoming a Jr. CyBearGuide member, visit Bear University in Build-A-Bearville. Click the paw under the big Jr. CyBearGuide blue star to learn more about the program.
Online Safety Guidelines for Parents
Parry Aftab of WiredKids.org has additional tips to help keep kids safe online.
-Personal information stays personal. While this is an important rule for children it’s also an important rule for parents. Giving information on your family and your children to the wrong person can be dangerous.
-Make sure your child doesn’t spend all of his or her time on the computer. Other kids, not computers, should be their best friends and companions.
-Remember to monitor their compliance with safety rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time children spend on the computer.
-Warn them that people may not be what they seem to be. The Internet provides a cover for people to put on whatever personas they desire.