LISA: I’m Lisa Birnbach for howdini.com and today’s topic is cyber-bullying. What is it? Our guest is Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out, published by Harcourt. Hi.
LISA: My daughter has been on the wrong side of being bullied on the Internet. Groups of kids get together and IM one another in clusters and they say horrible things.
RACHEL: And that’s just the beginning.
LISA: And I’ve heard horrible stories; I’ve heard stories of sexual language used by kids who don’t even know what they’re saying, too.
RACHEL: Yeah, yeah, it’s true. I mean, being online and, and sending nasty messages to each other is just the beginning. Cyber-bullying is using electronic devices – it could be, you know, a handheld device like a telephone, it could be a computer – to slander people’s reputation, to slander people, to express all kinds of violent and hateful messages towards them. It happens in so many different ways, I mean ways that are almost too many to count. One if them is by sending messages; other things that are happening now are taking embarrassing photos of kids and putting them up on personal web pages or social networking pages like Myspace and Facebook. Other things that are happening are the stealing of passwords; using passwords to break into someone’s account and impersonate them, and then go around online saying things that are not true, that damage their reputation or other people’s.
LISA: And the internet, things don’t die, things follow you around forever and ever; I mean, it’s a real problem
RACHEL: Yeah, that’s the problem. Yeah, I mean that’s the thing. The Internet has really become the new bathroom wall for kids, but it’s a totally different kind of bathroom wall because you can basically put that bathroom wall in everybody’s house.
RACHEL: And things will live on and continue to be forwarded forever; it’s a terrible problem. In fact, a study recently came out showing that one third of all teenagers have been cyber-bullied at some point, and that girls are twice as likely to have rumors spread about them than boys.
LISA: I’m sure.
RACHEL: Also, more girls than boys are reporting being cyber-bullied, and I think girls, in particular, are vulnerable because girls like to talk; they like to chat. The other point I want to make is that, might be interesting to you guys, is that one of the other problems with the Internet is that kids are using it as a crutch to avoid face-to-face conversations that are so important to their development.
LISA: So conflict that they know, they need to have to resolve a problem, they’re going to have in a different way – maybe in a crueler way – online.
RACHEL: Absolutely. It could be that, or it could even be something like asking someone out on a date, or having a difficult conversation that’s not even a conflict but that involves embarrassment or awkwardness. We all remember, if you grew up without the Internet, that stress of having to ask somebody a question that was hard to ask and waiting for the answer. Kids can avoid that entirely now by sitting behind the safety of their computer monitors; the trouble is they’re not developing the social skills that they need in order to become functional adults that can handle those face-to-face conversations.
LISA: Oh, that’s a great point Rachel, I hadn’t even thought of that.
RACHEL: Because here’s what it is, like they’re so – think about your child. Think about how many photographs she’s taken versus how many photographs you’ve taken. She’s probably taken more photographs in the few years that she’s been on the planet than you’ve taken in all the years you’ve been on the planet.
RACHEL: They have a totally different relationship to media. They are constantly photographing themselves; they are constantly throwing their photographs up on the internet, exchanging them. So for the, there’s the sense that the Internet is okay to put anything you want on it; there’s no privacy there, but they think there is. So they’ll send a photo to somebody and say, oh please don’t forward this, and they have no idea.
LISA: Rachel, I sort of believe in spying on your kids because you don’t know who’s writing to them on the Internet, you don’t know if they’re getting spam that’s really pornographic or scary. So that’s my opinion; what’s your opinion.
RACHEL: All right, there’s different levels of spying. Level one is you have, you are able to come up behind your child and if she minimizes the page, then you ask her to maximize it, and if it’s inappropriate, you’ve discovered something’s not okay. You can also go through her history, see the websites she’s been visiting, I think all of that is acceptable. If you’re really concerned, the next step is move the computer outside of the privacy of your child’s room and make her use it in a public spot.
LISA: And you do that in order to foster what, let’s say trust?
RACHEL: Well, no. At that point I think there’s no, there’s not going to be any trust and your child will be very, very upset and feel violated. And I think understandably so; at the same time, as a parent you obviously have the right to monitor what your child’s doing, especially if you have reason to believe she’s engaging in inappropriate behavior online.
RACHEL: The other couple of tips that I just want to give for parents is one of the biggest problems that happens is password sharing. I regularly poll groups of girls to find out how many of them have shared their password with their best friend and I can’t tell you how many hands go up. The trouble with that is when something goes sour between you and your best friend, she could use your password, hand it out and make you vulnerable to people pretending to be you, breaking into your account, altering your personal information. Talk to your child about not sharing the password.
LISA: Great idea.
RACHEL: Tell your child it’s like a credit card or a pin number, and just as she does not see you handing out your credit card to your best friend, she should not be handing out her password to her best friend and it doesn’t matter how BFF you are, your password is your other.
The other thing was this: the way to cut down on drama online is by cutting your child’s access to being online. I think that the Internet is a form of media that’s no different than television, magazines, music. If you are regulating your child’s access to those things – to music, to television, to movies – so, too, should you be regulating their access to the Internet. I believe that kids should have as much access to the Internet as everyday as they do to television. So if they get two hours of TV a night, there should be two hours of online a night. It should not be on all the time like a white noise in the background, because that will always leave your child open to engaging in whatever it is you are worried about, whether it’s cyber-bullying or worse.
LISA: Great advice, really great advice, thank you Rachel. For howdini.com, I’m Lisa Birnbach.