|Protect Your Child From Cyberbullying
Lori Drew, a Missouri mother, was involved in creating a fictitious profile of a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans and sending cruel messages to Megan Meier, a 13-year-old who lived nearby. When "Josh Evans" suddenly ended the relationship, Megan took her own life.
Drew was convicted on misdemeanor charges of illegally accessing a computer and not guilty of a felony charge of conspiracy.
It may be a good idea to use this story as a launching pad for family conversations about cyberbullying, Internet safety and responsibility. Talking to kids about hypothetical situations isn't nearly as powerful as discussing real life events. This case also reinforces the significant role parents play in modeling good online behavior.
Media sound bites can be deceiving, so before you talk to your kids, read more about this case to better understand the details and facts (nytimes.com offers several good articles following the case). Then, use these talking points to get the conversation started with your child:
Cyberbullying is a serious problem. Spreading rumors, calling names and talking in a mean or hurtful way about someone else online is a serious problem among teens today - and can have serious consequences. Parents need to make sure kids understand bullying behavior won't be tolerated on or offline.
Social networking sites have rules. Rules and guidelines for online communities like MySpace are put in place for the safety of everyone and parents and kids should understand those rules before participating. Like many other sites, MySpace has an extensive safety tips section designed for parents, teens and educators.
Fake profiles are easy to set up. Even though the Meiers were monitoring Megan's online relationship with Josh Evans, they did not know it was a fraudulent profile until six weeks after Megan's death. Imposter profiles are difficult to identify and parents should remind kids that people are not always who they claim to be online.
Online relationships should be extensions of established connections. Tweens and young teens put a lot of stock into the relationships they have with online buddies and networked friends, which is why they should only connect with friends and acquaintances they already know in real life.
Many schools, libraries and youth programs offer Internet safety workshops and programs. If your school or community does not, parents can find good safety sources online for kids.
The following programs are among the best available Internet interactive safety programs online for a variety of age groups.
NetSmartz.org - Created by a site National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, this site offers games, videos and interactive safety lessons for young kids featuring cute cartoon puppet character, as well as music and printable activities. The site also offers information for middle and high school aged students, as well as parents and educators.
NsTeens.org - Also from the NCMEC, this site is specifically designed for middle school students and features comic book style lessons and videos.
iKeepSafe.org - From the IKeepSafe Coalition, this site uses a cute kitty character named Faux Paws as a mascot and offers an online book about Internet safety, games and downloads for young kids.