Does it ever seem like the world has tilted on its axis and is spinning out of control? It's hard to fathom the cavernous differences in the world in which our children are growing up these days from the world we lived in just a few decades back. In an age where everything revolves around electronics, our phones have seemingly become an extension of our hand. I wonder if mankind's features will evolve to adapt to the world of gadgets and ever-advancing technology. Will our thumbs and fingers morph into a more efficient shape for texting?
Unfortunately, with advances in technology come advances in techniques of nefarious activities which have been around for centuries. Never have our kids been so susceptible to images of graphic violence and sex, and vulgar language, with such exposure commonplace to even the youngest of our offspring. As parents, how do we protect our children from the barrage of inappropriate information and images flying across the internet? How do we balance the need to protect our children with the need to let them make and learn from their own mistakes and face the consequences of their actions?
This concept is nothing new. But what's different in the age of the technological beast, is that the consequences of messing up have such far reaching - indeed potentially global - ramifications. In a world where the internet and social media dominate almost every aspect of our lives, there are no secrets, nothing is private, nothing is sacred. And worst of all, those who seek to harm our children can hide behind anonymity on the web. In a very real sense, the "web" is just that: a giant spider web just waiting to ensnare our vulnerable youth.
Take bullying. Bullying has been around since the beginning of time, but never have bullies had a bigger pulpit to spew their meanness and hatred. At least the bullies of old had to face their victims to extort their lunch money. Today's cyber bullies can hide behind the anonymity of the internet, spreading viciousness with one click. For our young and impressionable children, the effects can be devastating. The San Antonio community was recently rocked by the suicide of a 16-year-old boy who killed himself after being subjected to relentless cyber bullying. A FB post of his brothers went viral and has brought the issue to the forefront, not just in San Antonio, but across the nation. How ironic that the same instrument used to destroy a life, is being used to bring awareness to cyber bulling and potentially save others from a similar fate.
If your child complains of being bullied, don't ignore the complaint. Standing up to the schoolyard bully is not the same as it used to be, especially when it involves cyber bullying. According to the government's anti-bullying website, the following guidelines should be observed in dealing with cyber bullying:
- Don't respond to and don't forward cyber bullying messages.
- Keep evidence of cyber bullying. Record dates, times, and descriptions of instances of cyber bullying; save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages.
- Block the person who is cyber bullying.
- Report cyber bullying to schools, online service providers, and social media websites, and in some cases to law enforcement.
Know what your kids are doing on the internet, monitor their social media activities, talk to them about cyber bullying, and maintain open lines of communication. This is easier said than done, particularly when our children are at the age when they think their parents are idiots who don't know squat. But the alternative is not an option. Because when it comes to being cyber bullied, sometimes kids can't handle it on their own. Sometimes it takes a grown up. Sometimes it takes a village.
For more info on how to deal with bullying, visit www.stopbullying.gov.