Cyber Kids, Cyber Pranks & CyberBullying

Three blog posts crossed my desk this week, almost back to back. All three were from McAfee.com, and were related to family safety.

In the first blog posting, titled So Are You ‘Hot or Not?’ App Rates Appearance,” author Toni Birdsong talks about the plethora of Apps that are of questionable virtue. It seems there is a app out there called “Hot or Not.” This app allows girls (or guys) to upload their photos and have thousands of other users rate their physical appearance. Now that’s a wonderful idea.

According to the App, it claims to be “The hottest online community with over 190 million members.” We should rush to “Get in. Get seen. Get fans! Check out if you are Hot, find interesting people around you and chat with them.”

Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

Toni goes on to talk about some other apps that are of questionable character:

Other apps I would put into the mix of little social value include apps that allow anonymity such as Ask.fm, Whisper, and Yik Yak. I will write more about Yik Yak after I’ve used it for a while but the app description pretty much axes any redemptive uses from this parent’s point of view: “Yik Yak lets you post anonymously or under an alias—you can become the talk of the town and never get discovered—it’s an open space where anyone can talk about anything.”

So, because I teach my kids that personal responsibility and accountability are important, this app will never see the light of day in my household. Actually, none of the above-mentioned apps will.

Cyber Pranks

The next blog post, courtesy of “Alex Merton-McCann,” is about Cyber Pranks.
In her post, Merton-McCann, known on McAfee’s Blog as “Cybermum Australia,” discusses some of the latest “pranks” that kids are playing on each other.  She is quick to point out, and I agree, that there some pranks that are very well done. But those are planned out, with no intention of being mean spirited or spiteful.
Unfortunately, more and more teens see the online world, and social media, as their “Pranking Playground.” With the level of technology available, it is very easy to push the prank too far, and cross the line into cyberbullying. Or an instance of cyberbullying can be explained away as “just a misunderstood prank.”
There are a couple of examples given that involve setting up fake Facebook & Instagram accounts, creating adult-themed advertising, listing the victim’s contact information, and hacking into social media accounts and posting inappropriate comments.

Cyber-Bullying

In the third article, also by Alex Merton-McCann (@Cybermum_AU), she talks about Cyberbullying.

This is a major problem with our kids. She is very direct, and says it much better than I could:

“Online abuse is not acceptable. NO excuses. NO exceptions. And there is no doubt that the vast majority of good living digital citizens would absolutely agree. However there still remains a very vocal minority who continue to wage campaigns of hate and vitriol that are ruining people’s lives forever.”

There is a common thread through all three of these posts. And, there is a sad progression that is visible also. They are all a form of cyberbullying.

  • Picking at someone online because they are not “popular” or “pretty” or “fill in the blank.”
  • Playing the mean-spirited prank on the “uncool” kids.
  • Outright vicious posts online.
We had a case within the past couple of months of a middle school girl who was sexually attacked while at school.  It was captured on surveillance video, too.  The girl had to transfer to another school, because she was being bullied.  I had one girl tell me, via facebook comment, that “she asked for it,” and that she was a tramp and should have kept her mouth shut, instead of “ratting” the boy out.
We can’t wrap our kids in online bubble-wrap. How do we keep our kids safe? We’ve all been taught what to do in the physical world, but what about online?
Well, thanks to folks like Alex, Toni, and others dedicated to Family Safety and Cyber Safety, there are lists of things to do and watch for. Here are a couple:
  • Know what your kids are doing online. Where do they go online? What apps are installed on their smart phones? Create accounts on apps they use, so that you can monitor and follow them online. Don’t interact with them online (eww, parents). Observe for a while (days or weeks), and if you see problems, talk to them about what you see.
  • Talk to your kids about social media, as part of the overall “how was your day” conversation. Look for ways to include positive reinforcement about cyberbullying, as well as making good choices online.  Be interested in their Social Media lives (even the stories about their high scores in League of Legends, ugh.) If you’re engaging your kids at their level, about what interests them, their peers loose that edge.
  • Set very distinct ground rules. Make sure they know the limits on pictures they can post online. Sexting is a problem in this age range. Make sure you are checking their phones, and being proactive with them.
  • Model good habits and relationships. Cyberbullying starts at home.  I know I hear my kids “trash talking” other players in their online games. This can lead to bigger issues if you don’t discuss with them what they are doing. And make sure you are doing the same thing. Kids are very quick to dismiss everything you say, if you’re “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.” “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t work.
Tori recommends the following approaches, also:
  • Get a family game plan. Clearly communicate your family values and expectations of online behavior. We love these ground rules. Also make your kids understand consequences if they fudge their modesty on posts or photo uploads. More important, have the guts to enforce the consequences and be consistent.
  • Catch your kids being awesome! While their mistakes can show up online in neon to a parent, be sure to call your kids out for just being great people online! Many kids are showing up adults online when it comes to leadership, courage, and creativity—and your child is likely one of those kids! Expect the awesome, and tell them when you see it!
Can you think of anything else that will help your kids online?

Photo by J_O_I_D / CC BY

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