National Cyber Awareness Day reminds parents, teachers, and youth mentors the importance of talking about cyber bullying, sexting, and more.
By Julia Harris
Sexting. Cyber bullying. Harassment via electronic communication. Perhaps today—National Cyber Awareness Day—is the time to talk to your children about these modern dangers.--The odds are high that your child will eventually be the victim of cyber bullying. According to Safe America, 50 percent of teens admit to being bullied online or by text message. Our youth don't have to be victims of cyber bullying or crime if parents and adults teach kids how to cope.
Megan Meirer, 13, was a victim of cyber bullying. Meirer suffered low self-esteem. A classmate’s mother, disguising herself as a cute boy that was home schooled, befriended her on Myspace. The two became close through their online relationship. Then, one day, the mother sent a message that read, “I don't know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I've heard that you are not very nice to your friends." After that message, Meirer began receiving harassing messages from other individuals on Myspace. The messages said things like, “Megan Meier is a slut” or “Megan Meier is fat.” The cruel messages took a toll on Meirer. On October 16, 2006, Meirer took her own life.Sexting, (sex+texting= sexting), refers to texts, either sent or received, that contain sexually explicit language or photographs. Although those involved view sexting as a harmless act, the not-so-private messages or pictures usually end up in the wrong hands. Sexting can often lead to cyber bullying, or worse, criminal charges.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution featured a story about a teen who began sending provocative photographs of herself to individuals she befriended online. After finding the photographs online, classmates sent the photograph through most of the student body. A classmate notified a teacher, but it was too late.
Talk to Your Kids
What your kids need to know is that everything communicated, whether through cell phone or online, is permanent. Explain to your child that trust perceived at the beginning of a relationship, when the message is sent, can change. Trust is often broken when a relationship ends, and their sexual messages or photographs can end up distributed to classmates, neighbors, and, realistically, worldwide on the Internet.
Your children need to know that the information may end up becoming public. To do this, individuals need to realize that everything they send or post will not remain private; think before texting or posting because in cyberspace, there’s no delete button. Do not give into anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Nothing is truly anonymous.
Shawn Edgington, author of The Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook, and Social Media: Understanding the Benefits and Dangers of Parenting in a Digital World, is America’s leading “Textpert” and cyber bullying prevention expert.
According to Edgington, almost half of our youth are experiencing some form of online harassment, and 71 percent of our teens receive messages from strangers online, and 39 percent of teenagers admit to sending or posting sexually suggestive messages (aka sexting). It’s also a fact that most kids don’t tell anyone about what’s happening to them in their online world, she said.
The video accompanying this article will help parents recognize the warning signs of cyber bullying, sexting, and textual harassment, and monitor your child's digital use.
Dallas-Hiram Patch encourages parents to be involved and informed about their child's use of digital technology. Ask questions. Monitor your child's use. It builds a framework that allows families to maximize communication about the digital environment while minimizing your child's risk. Your child's health and well-being depend on it.
As adults and parents, it is in our hands to create a generation of responsible and ethical digital citizens.
Has your child experienced cyber bullying or textual harassment? How did your family handle it?
Published in The Dallas - Hiram patch May 17,2011