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Kids' Internet Safety

Help teens stay safe from cyberbullies and Internet trolls

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By Carolyn Jabs

Over the past several years, news of teen suicides seemingly spurred by online bullying have marred prom and graduation season. School officials have taken the brunt of the blame for not stepping in to stop the harassment. When school lets out next month, however, kids will have even more time for social networking — and parents will become the ones directly responsible for intervening to stop the mean behavior that has become epidemic online.

Obviously, most parents worry most about how to keep their own kids from becoming victims of online harassment. That’s a very legitimate concern, given a recent study from the Cyberbullying Research Center showing that victims of cyberbullying are more likely to contemplate suicide. Still, protecting victims is only part of the equation. Parents must expand their vision to help kids participate in online networks that reinforce what’s best about young people — and not what’s worst.

Unfortunately, online communities take their cue from an offline culture awash with meanness. Reality TV shows thrive on putting people in humiliating situations. Political talk show hosts regularly demean those who disagree with them. Music and movies often revolve around violence or the threat of violence. In this context, it’s not surprising that young people are confused about how to create rewarding relationships.

The approach of summer is a good time to regroup and think about how you can help your child develop a warm, supportive network both online and off. Here are some suggestions on how to do just that.

Assess your own behavior

You, of course, are your child’s most important role model, so a little self-examination is in order. How do you talk to your kids when you’re angry or argue with your spouse? What do you say about neighbors or public figures whose opinions you don’t like? If your kids see you behaving respectfully toward others — even under trying circumstances — they will have a repertoire of strategies to use in both on- and offline relationships.

Strengthen offline networks

Summer is an ideal time to help kids develop face-to-face friendships. Look for settings in which kids have offline fun that doesn’t involve belittling others. In particular, be sure that adult leaders, including coaches and camp counselors, model the kind of fairness, decency and respect you want from your kids.

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