Helping Keep Children Safe Online

By | August 29, 2011

Known as ?cyberbullying,? this problem can occur at any time of the day or night, due to the always-on nature of the devices and technologies used to create these hurtful interactions. So, for some young people, home offers no respite from being victimized. In fact, cyberbullying has beome common enough that the term was recently added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.

While technology can help people monitor the problem, more needs to be done. A number of organizations worldwide are arming young people and educators with the tips and tools they need to help create a safer digital environment.
Cyberbullying and Its Consequences

In their book ?Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives,? Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin, co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, reported that one in five U.S. teens surveyed was a victim of cyberbullying in 2010. In addition, one in five teens admitted to being a cyberbully themselves.

While the media typically reports only on the most serious, tragic cases, Hinduja said such incidents are rare and only scratch the surface on cyberbullying and its potential long-term consequences.

Hinduja said the research he and Patchin have conducted shows a connection between cyberbullying and truancy, absenteeism, poor academic performance, eating disorders, school violence and delinquency.

?This isn?t just a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon, or something you can relegate to cyberspace. It?s something that has meaningful consequences for our youth,? Hinduja said. ?So, we’re trying to understand it better, and then figure out how we can shape policy and programs.?

Peer Mentoring Online

One program that tackles cyberbullying is CyberMentors , a U.K.-based project that trains young people to mentor peers who are victims of bullying.

The project is offered through Beatbullying, a nonprofit organization that, since 1999, has placed anti-bullying programs directly into schools and communities. Founded as an offline resource for young people, Beatbullying adapted its peer-mentoring program for online use to give young people a relevant, easy way to receive help.

?What we’ve been able to do is help any young person who is being bullied or cyberbullied. They can go online, talk to someone their own age, and get help immediately, in real time,? said Richard Piggin, deputy CEO of Beatbullying. ?For a lot of young people, we?ve found they find it to be an invaluable source of support.?

Piggin said to date, the organization has trained 4,500 ?cybermentors.? In the U.K. alone, some 11,000 others have expressed interest in volunteering their time and mentoring their peers.

?So many young people want to give back and support other children who are going through this,? Piggin said. ?It?s now a question of how we are able to reach them and who we need to work with to reach all children, for whom cyberbullying is just as much of a problem as it is for British kids.?
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