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Cyberbullying and the freedom of speech

Cyberbullying and the freedom of speech

As the number of teens and young children using the Internet rise, so are the incidents of cyberbullying. Since censoring or banning specific forms of online speech is not possible, it is up to parents to understand what cyberbullying is and how to protect their children.

What is Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is the technology equivalent of playground or neighborhood bullying. There are no sticks or stones involved, however; the bullying is all on a psychological level. Children being bullied cannot go home and avoid the rumors or taunts; it is all waiting for them online as much as being spread at school or in social circles.

Social networking sites such as, Facebook and Twitter are prime locations for bullying comments. Kids, especially teens, use these services as ways to establish either who they are or who they want to be. These sites can also easily promote the common adolescent behavior of bullying.

Cyberbullying is not confined to Internet sites. Text messages can also become sources of unwanted, demoralizing comments.

How to Protect Teens From Cyberbullying

Parents are in a unique position in regards to their children’s online behavior. Being involved in the behavior of children, including teens, when they are involved with the Internet or text messaging is not legally considered a violation of their free speech. It is parents’ responsibility to educate children about acceptable behavior. This is similar to asking kids where they are going after school or where they have been when they return home.

Parents and other adults can monitor kids’ digital activities through an active presence or by using monitoring software. It is important to be involved in their recreational activities, even when the child is a teen, in order to help them understand both their responsibilities as emerging adults and the consequences of their actions and decisions. Monitoring software can be useful for verifying activities while parents are not home, or to block sites deemed to be inappropriate.

It is also advisable to watch for signs of cyberbullying, whether the child is the victim or the bully. Keeping communication open and comfortable helps, but so does being actively involved in a kid’s activities.

As children and teens increase their online presence, it is natural that typical human behaviors will follow them into the digital world.

Cyberbullying Can Kill

Ryan Patrick Halligan was a gentle teenager who was struggling through adolescence and was cyberbullied relentlessly until the pain became so unbearable for him that he committed suicide. His sexual orientation was questioned and then in an effort to quell those rumors he took up with a girl. She chatted with him online, but he didn’t know that she later publicized his personal messages and had a laugh at his expense with her friends. When he got to school he was teased and told he was a loser. This particular incident was enough to send him over the edge as he had been bullied previously online and at school.

How to help prevent bullying and what to do when it does happen

It’s important that we as parents try to remember what it was like to be a teen and how horribly painful it can be when faced with public humiliation. Other things parents can do include keeping the computer in a public safe zone such as the kitchen, family room or living room. If chatting is allowed, make sure you know who your kids are talking to and that they don’t give their personal information out such as password or location to anyone. Sometimes kids give others their passwords as a test of friendship but it’s a bad idea. You never know who that information will be slipped to. Some people have gone so far as to steal another’s account and impersonate them. If this does happen, contact your ISP and support team immediately to report it and get a new account.

It’s not a good idea for children to open any email from people they don’t know and setting up an email account with a safe list of people to communicate with is something parents can encourage their children to do. If they do receive an abusive email it is best that they don’t respond to it as this can encourage the bully further.

If the abuse continues it should be reported. Some children are nervous about telling anyone because they’re concerned it will make the situation worse. Reassure them that the more people know the better and that it’s not their fault. It’s against the law in many places to harass people. In Canada it is illegal and according to the Criminal Code of Canada it’s a criminal act to communicate repeatedly with someone if it is causing them to fear for their safety. It is also a violation of human rights if someone is spreading hate by insulting someone for their race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or because of a disability.

Children who bully need help too. Often they’re being abused at home and acting out towards others to compensate for their own feelings of powerlessness. Children who bully are more likely to skip school and get in trouble with the law when they get older, so it’s important that an adult or teacher tries to reach out to them to find out what kind of home life they could have that is possibly contributing to their delinquent behavior.