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Cyberbullying challenges parents

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Date posted: December 14, 2010

Interesting story on cyberbullying in Sunday’s New York Times points to some of the issues faced by parents in dealing with this issue, both as parents of the victims and parents of the perpetrators.  I’m left wondering who is educating the parents about these kinds of issues.

By default, schools have been left with the responsibility of providing some minimal level of awareness about internet safety issues.  They are the one place where all kids can be reached, where all kids can have internet access, and where there is at least some level of expertise about the internet.

Groups like Common Sense Media have digital citizenship programs for students and for parents, but how do you engage the parents?  In my experience, it’s difficult for schools or PTAs, for example, to draw large numbers of parents to a meeting or workshop to discuss cyberbullying.  The ones who come are the ones who are already involved in their children’s online lives.

How do you reach the rest?  It’s not like they’re disinterested.  There may be myriad obstacles they’d have to overcome in order to get to an evening workshop.

Where do parents go?  Stories in the media, by their very nature, tend to focus on the unusual and sensational.  Man bites dog is a story: dog bites man isn’t.  So what we typically see in the news are the extreme cases, like bullying that leads to a suicide.  Yet most bullying does not rise to that level.  These are complicated issues with many nuances and no simple solutions, as the Times’ story makes clear.

Not every bullying situation results in a suicide, for instance.  Those are the instances that make it into the news but, in fact, most bullying conflicts are far less serious and many are resolved by the kids themselves.  I am in no way saying that bullying isn’t a serious issue or that it shouldn’t be addressed.

What we should do is learn the facts of the individual situation, and then look to what research tells us are effective solutions.  Without that knowledge, however well-meaning we are, we can easily make things worse.  We share what we know about cyberbullying on our website, and point users to the organizations with the best information and resources.  Check it out.