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Online Safety, Cyberbullying and Gaming

Teach Kids About the Dangers

When it comes to online safety, there is no such thing as being too careful. There are many basic rules, some of them guided by common sense, that must be followed by parents and their children. Kids need to be taught about the dangers, which include online predators who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of online services and the Internet. It’s up to parents to stay on their guard—always—to keep their children safe and secure in the cyber world. 

Here are some crucial online safety measures from the FBI:

  • Tell children to never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name or phone number; and never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online.
  • Children shouldn’t give out passwords to anyone, not even their best friend. Only their parents or a guardian should have access to a password.
  • Talk to your child about the potential dangers of predators, and tell them that anything they are told on the Internet may not be true.
  • Tell children to never post pictures of themselves on the Internet or to an online service to people they don’t personally know—and never without a parent’s permission; never download pictures from an unknown source; and never post an inappropriate photo of anyone.
  • Tell children to never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, harassing or that make them uncomfortable in any way.
  • Tell children that they should always let a parent know when a stranger is trying to befriend them.
  • Spend time with your children online, and have them teach you about their favorite destinations.
  • Keep the computer in a common room in your home, not the child’s bedroom. It’s more difficult for a predator to communicate with a child when the screen is visible to another member of the household.
  • Use parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. In particular, monitor your child’s use of chat rooms closely, because they are also prowled by online sex offenders.
  • Always maintain access to your child’s online account and randomly check their email. Be upfront with your child about your access and the reasons why.
  • Find out what computer safeguards are used by your child’s school, at the public library and at the homes of your child’s friends, because these are all places where your child could encounter an online predator.

If you think a child is in danger …

Contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation immediately at 800-TBI-FIND (800-824-3463) or send an email to Tips to TBI (tipstotbi@tn.gov) if you think a child is being victimized by means of the Internet, a cellphone or other electronic communication. These cases are the TBI’s highest priority, and the agency’s resources include an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Cyberbullying

What is it? Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology, according to StopBullying.gov, a website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cellphones, computers and tablets, as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chats and websites.

What are examples? They include:

  • Mean text messages or emails
  • Rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites
  • Embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles

How is it different? Cyberbullying is different from normal bullying because children who are victims have a harder time getting away from the behavior: Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Messages and images can be posted anonymously, be extremely difficult to delete and spread to a very wide audience. It can also be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source, according to StopBullying.gov.

What are the effects on victims? Children who are cyberbullied are more likely to:

  • Use alcohol and drugs
  • Skip school
  • Experience in-person bullying
  • Be unwilling to attend school
  • Receive poor grades
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Have more health problems

How can parents help prevent it?

  • Just as with general online safety, you should know the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they’re going, what they’re doing and whom they’re doing it with.
  • Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs is one option, but do not rely solely on these tools.
  • Have a sense of what they do online and in texts. Learn about the sites they like. Try out the devices they use.
  • Ask for their passwords, but tell them you’ll use them only in case of emergency.
  • Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
  • Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, are being cyberbullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cellphones if they confide in you about a problem they are having.
  • Establish rules about appropriate use of computers, cellphones and other technology. For example, be clear about what sites they can visit and what they are permitted to do when they’re online. Show them how to be safe online.
  • Help them be smart about what they post or say. Tell them not to share anything that could hurt or embarrass themselves or others. Once something is posted, it is out of their control whether someone else will forward it.
  • Encourage kids to think about who they want to see the information and pictures they post online. Should complete strangers see it? Real friends only? Friends of friends? Think about how people who aren’t friends could use it.
  • Understand school rules. Some schools have developed policies on uses of technology that may affect the child’s online behavior in and out of the classroom. Ask the school if they have developed a policy.

What can you do if your child is a victim?

  • Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages. Block the person who is cyberbullying.
  • Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screen shots, emails and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to Web and cellphone service providers.
  • Cyberbullying often violates the terms of service established by social media sites and Internet service providers. Review their terms and conditions or rights and responsibilities sections, and report cyberbullying to the sites or providers so they can take action.  
  • When cyberbullying involves threats of violence; stalking or hate crimes; sexually explicit images or photos; or photo or video of someone in a place where that person would expect privacy, it is considered a crime and should be reported to law enforcement.
  • Notify school administrators. The school can use the information to help inform prevention and response strategies. For more information on Tennessee laws governing cyberbullying, go to StopBullying.gov/Laws/Tennessee.html

Gaming

In 2005, the American Psychological Association said, “Comprehensive analysis of violent interactive video game research suggests such exposure increases aggressive behavior, thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal, and decreases helpful behavior.” The APA advocated “reduction of all violence in video games and interactive media marketed to children and youth.” If you have concerns about your child’s behavior or their Internet gaming habits, talk to your pediatrician or mental health professional.

With so many video games available, parents must take an active role in monitoring their child’s appetite for them, both at home and at friends’ homes. Here are a few tips from the federal government resource OnGuardOnline.gov and the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • In general, the AAP recommends that children above the age of 2 should be limited to two hours of screen time per day. Children under 2 should have no screen time. 
  • Use parental controls. It’s important to find out what you have available to you. Depending on the game system, you might be able to ensure your child is playing only those games that contain an age-appropriate rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board; disable any gaming options that involve the Internet; set time limits; and more. To find out about a game system’s controls, OnGuardOnline.gov recommends that you look it up in the ESRB’s resource section
  • Keep your game system in a common area. This will make it easier for you to monitor.
  • Talk with your children. Parental controls are a great tool, but they can’t replace your own communication. For example, talk about what games or apps they are playing or using; what you’ve decided is OK and what your limits are; whom it’s OK to play with; and how to deal with inappropriate online behavior by another player—you may be able to block the player or notify a game’s publisher or online service.