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Health Tips for Parents

2009 Issues

How can I protect my child from cyberbullying?


In our technologically driven society, today’s bully can taunt children not only on the school yard, but also in cyberspace, where the harm can be even more far-reaching.

In 2008, cyberbullying
took center stage and forced schools and parents to look closely at the issue when a highly publicized case of cyberbullying was brought to court. The defendant was a mother who assumed a false identity on MySpace to humiliate and taunt a depressed teen who subsequently committed suicide. The case resulted in a conviction.

Cyberbullying is when a person torments, terrorizes, threatens, harasses, humiliates, embarrasses or otherwise targets another person using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.

According to a recent survey of children in middle school, one in three children admits to cyberbullying activity and nearly half have been a victim of cyberbullying.

With the anonymity and non-confrontational nature of the virtual world, online bullying can be easier to commit than school-yard bullying. Unlike a face-to-face encounter with a school-yard bully, a cyberbully can intimidate victims 24 hours a day, causing constant fear and anxiety.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue, both for the perpetrator and the victim. Parents need to know how online tools are being used, states Carlos Lerner, M.D., pediatrician at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.

Parents are on the front line of this modern-day phenomenon. According to Dr. Lerner, parents may assume they are much less technically savvy than their children and, thus, may ignore that facet of their child’s life. “By talking to your children frequently about their lives, parents can get a better grasp about what is going on and can easily spot a change in their attitude,” he notes.

Keep your child safe

  • Explain the importance of respecting others.
  • Educate children about the pitfalls of online use, noting:
    • Comments can be misinterpreted.
    • Written words can be just as hurtful as spoken words.
    • There are no “take backs” in the virtual world; photos and postings are no longer private, and can stay in cyberspace forever.
  • Report bullying to social Internet sites and to school officials.
  • Invest in software that allows parental control over a child’s online activities.

Help prevent cyberbullying

Help your children understand the values of friendship and trust, emphasizing those values should prevail in their day-to-day lives as well as in their screen lives. Have regular, open dialogues with children about not only their school day, but their virtual life. “The best thing parents can do is to provide children with a supportive, safe environment that promotes their self-esteem,” says Dr. Lerner. And always encourage children to tell you if they experience or witness bullying in any form.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and West Los Angeles.

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