Friday, March 18, 2011

Your Child Is Watching You!

I have done over a hundred radio interviews on the subject of bullying, especially cyberbullying. What makes cyberbullying so contemptible is that it is insidious; the postings cannot be deleted from the Internet. There is no escaping the deluge of images on the cell phone or computer, twenty-four hours, seven days a week. The ultimate bully tactic is to “befriend” someone, only to post rumors and allegations that can ruin a reputation, or post pictures to humiliate someone, all done by an anonymous “friend”. Often times, the victim is too embarrassed to say anything to a parent or authority, for fear of being ridiculed. Under this kind of stress and anxiety, this can impact a child’s self-esteem, appetite, attitude, and learning abilities. I have been asked during the course of these interviews:  Does a parent have the right to monitor a child’s cell phone and computer?  My position is, absolutely!

Raising a child is not a democratic vocation, and until the child is of legal age, the parents are responsible for their child’s behavior. So if your child is texting vicious lies or innuendoes, sending embarrassing or humiliating pictures or sexting  especially of another person, then, you, the parent can be held liable. Aside from the moral issue, consider the financial aspects:  All but five states have anti-bullying laws on the books, some very severe consequences for parents and child, if a text, sexting or posting on social networks, is traced to your child. Once a text or picture is posted, it cannot be deleted; and now there is sophisticated software to trace postings.

You might want to tell your child some facts of Internet life.
  • That text, picture or posting is out there forever. It can land on anyone’s website----think pedophile.
  • In a few years when being interviewed for scholarships, by professional sports’ scouts, or a job, or in a serious relationship, how embarrassing would it be to have a sexting, or vicious posting to show up on someone’s screen?
Many of the kids that I talk to do not consider themselves bullies, it is just a joke, after all. But there is nothing funny about being harassed to death, as in several cases, most notably thirteen-year old Megan Meier.

Parents must be role models for their children and address, define and enforce appropriate behavior. Your child is watching you! If you text, talk and drive, then it must okay, and that law does apply to me.  If you talk nasty or post vicious comments, or send pictures of your body parts, why wouldn’t your child do the same thing? While I think it is vital to supervise cell phones and computers, I think we all should examine our own actions. Speak to, speak out, about bullying, especially cyber-bullying.

Establish rules for using cell phones and computers. Know the passwords for all the social networks and email accounts, and cell phones:  monitor these sites for inappropriate postings, at least weekly. Impress the importance of never giving out personal information, or passwords to strangers over the Internet, especially that so-called new “friend” that may not be who is profiled. Talk with your children about the consequences of posting mean, vicious, embarrassing comments or lies about another person. If your child is the victim of a cyberbully, keep a log of each entry, then delete. Do not respond to it. Report the abuse to the host of the website. Most of the social networks have a link that will let you report abuse. If the victim knows who is doing it, although rarely is it evident who the perpetuator is, contact the school authorities (teacher, principal, superintendent), and if no one will take action, contact the police. Talk to teachers, school administration and PTA about having anti-bullying policies where the child signs a contract with the school; basically, I will not be a bully, nor will I tolerate bullying, and the school administration promises to be there to support and intervene for the bullied. Statistics show that violence is reduced by seventy-percent (70%) on campus.

This is an awesome age of technology, but technology does not define our values. So, before you hand over a cell phone or laptop to your child, talk about what is acceptable and not acceptable conduct regarding texting, sexting and posting. Having a computer and cell phone is a privilege, not a right: if there is inappropriate behavior, revoke the privilege.

We are a global community and we have a responsibility to raise our children to become decent human beings, and that starts from the cradle. Parents, family, schools and the community, have an obligation to protect children from the world at large, and themselves. Even more so, from each other. The bullying stops here, right now!

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Texting

I want to discuss the good, bad and ugly of texting. Posting pictures and text onto websites and social networks is an everyday activity. What you post onto those sites is subject I want to discuss. The cell phone and computer is as much a part of our daily lives as breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I am thankful for that, for a number of good reasons:
 1. Not only are cell phones handy, they are a safety issue, allowing instant communication. If you are in trouble, you can call me, or emergency services.
2. Computers enrich our world and private lives with wealth of knowledge and communicative resources. My daughter in Australia is just a Skype away.
3. Getting a degree on line is available to everyone, making education an unlimited reality.
4. Doing homework is a lot easier. The next generation will probably not even have to learn cursive handwriting.
5. Social networking gives you access to diverse ideas, as well as like-minded individuals. You can be yourself without worrying about appearances.
6. You can interact through games, sharing like interests and skills. You can compete in multiple arenas.
7. The virtual community includes all genders, races and cultures. You really can be liked for who you are.
8. Being on the Internet can make you feel connected to ideas and people and communities, the whole world.

The bad news is, raising children is not a democratic process. As a parent, I have the responsibility to see that my child/ren behave appropriately, and by that, I mean I monitor their behavior on line and off. I speak from the perspective of an adult, but more importantly, I am a parent. I am concerned about not only my child, but all children. Trite, but true, my future is our children. So, I have a vested interest in making sure that children grow up and in the process, become decent human beings. That’s my job.

 I would like to clarify a few misconceptions I’ve run across.  

Myth: The more friends I have means I am popular.
Fact:  A collection of friends is not a relationship. How many of your cyber-buddies really care about you? How many of them do you care about? There is a big difference between “friending” on Facebook, MySpace and other social networks, and being a friend. A friend shares your likes, dislikes and interests, your core values, too.  

Myth: My post goes only to those friends I send it to on my cell or computer.
Fact: Those text and pictures can show up on any website, not only your friends, lovers, family, but on the computers of job interviewers, professional scouts, and predators.

 Myth: I can delete a post whenever I want.
Fact: If you post a text, picture or sexting, that stays out in cyberspace forever. Clever YouTube videos will be with us for as long as it takes to create software to delete them---but, there is no way to delete those postings. I want to talk to you about cyberbullying, the ugly part. With use of the Internet, instant messaging (IM), email and social networks, bullies can threaten, harass, intimidate, humiliate and embarrass someone twenty-four hours a day, everyday.  

Myth: If I remain anonymous, I cannot get into trouble. Who knows if I use another name, another identity? My parents and teachers will never know.
Fact: There is software to trace the posts back to the sender. If, say, you post a video, picture or text, of a classmate and make-up nasty rumors about that person, and it is traced back to you, then there are consequences.
Myth:  I can’t get into very much trouble.
Fact: You may be suspended or expelled from school, and could serve community service hours or even jail time. Your parents are liable for any lawsuits the victim or the victim’s parents file against your parents for invasion of privacy, defamation, sexual harassment, threats, or psychological harm; the schools are also being sued and held accountable. That is why there are now several states that have laws giving schools the authority to intervene in cyberbullying episodes.  

Myth: No one really takes this seriously. It’s just a joke!
Fact: Kids are literally being harassed to death. It is not funny.
With each new technological advance, we have opportunities to know more about ourselves each other, our world. We also have a responsibility to be good to one another, living in the Stone Age or the New Age of Technology. Before you hit the “send” button to post a text or picture, think!  Think of all the people now and forever who will love you or hate you for it.