Lately the topic of cyberbullying has been prominent in the news.
The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use describes cyberbullying as “being cruel to others by sending or posting material using the Internet or a cell phone.”
This is a scary, potentially violent and a challenging issue for parents, schools, and the legal community.
Bullying usually involves physical or verbal abuse and / or intimidation. Recent advances in technology have enabled a new means for bullying – the Internet and other digital technologies.
Further, it’s reasonable to assume that technology will continue to evolve and new channels of communication will emerge. This is usually wonderful for society at large. However, history has shown us that this usually also requires changes in acceptable societal norms (such as acceptable cell phone behavior) and public policy.
Some of the measures that may start to help this issue right now and in the future are to teach young children about net-etiquette and safety on the Internet. I used to include the topic of net-etiquette in my programs for children around 11 years old. Lately however I’ve started teaching net-etiquette as soon as a child can read and write. During my programs I’ve discovered that a large percentage of first and second-graders use email and instant messaging.
First and foremost – safety
Teach children to never share personal information on the Internet without a parent present. Be specific and explain what personal information means – name, age, address, phone. Also, children should not open email from any recipient any they do not know.
Anonymity on the Internet
Children need to understand that respect needs to be extended whether they are talking to someone in person, on the phone or digitally on the Internet. Not visibly seeing someone is never an excuse for rude behavior.
Be careful what you write
Children should learn never to write anything they feel uncomfortable sharing with others. Digital information can be saved, tracked and passed along. The old adage, “if you don’t have something nice to say – don’t say it” applies in this case.
Pay attention to what you’re writing
Good manners still apply when writing on-line. That includes grammar, spelling and acknowledging emails in a timely manner. There’s almost an “acronym or symbolic language” that young adults use when communicating on-line. Children should be conscience of angry words, and bold, large fonts or all capital letters.
Net-etiquette for all of us is still a work in progress, but children as young as 6 or 7 years old can learn the basics about polite and safe digital communication. Laying the correct foundation for communicating on the Internet will hopefully play a role in reducing the dangers of cyberbullying in the future.