Ensuring Safe and Supportive Schools

Cyberbullying: Steps Parents/Guardians Can Take To Prevent Harm

Cyberbullying -- using electronic technology, such as cell phones and social networking sites to humiliate, spread rumors, slam, or be mean to someone, -- and sexting -- the sending and receiving of sexually explicit messages or photos electronically -- can cause disruption and emotional pain to a child or youth’s health and spirit. Sexting can be against the law. Both cyberbullying and sexting can make it difficult for the target of the bullying and the person who engages in cyberbullying or sexting to focus and learn in school.

Parents and family members can help prevent cyberbullying and sexting (and help children with their learning) in a number of ways, most simply by being engaged, attentive and loving. Beyond that there are specific actions that parents and family members can take to help their child or children navigate the digital world.

Family Expectations for How We Treat Others

When parents and family members talk with their children, they can clearly state and repeat family expectations for interacting with others, including: “We treat others with respect. We are not mean to people under any circumstance, in person or on the Internet. We follow the golden rule: do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.” However you say it, say it and say it often.

Parents and Students Should Know the Law

Students who sext may consider the sending and receiving of ‘sexy pictures’ as a form of flirtation, a gift to a boyfriend or girlfriend, something they need to do to keep a boyfriend or girlfriend, a lark or a way of being mean, or having power over someone. The law describes those actions differently. Those actions can be a gross misdemeanor or felony. Sending and receiving sexually explicit pictures of someone under the age of 18 may be illegal. It is a federal crime to produce, distribute and/or possesses child pornography. A teen caught with sexually explicit pictures of someone under the age of 18 may face time in juvenile detention or registered in the state as a sex offender. In some sexting cases, the court may direct the youth to an educational, restorative justice or community service program instead.

In addition to legal consequences, young people may also face social and academic consequences for sexting. Students may be removed from athletic teams or other extracurricular activities and suspended from school. Students who are the subject of sexting may feel humiliated and harassed when their private pictures are sent around the school, the community and beyond.

Sexting can also jeopardize student’s future opportunities. College admissions officers, employers, military recruiters, future friends or significant others may find a student’s explicit photos during Google searches. Online sexual predators may also use the photos. Once sent or shared, there is no way to remove a photo from the Internet.

Staying Safe Online: Monitoring and Controlling Electronic Media

Parents, families, teens, children and educators can find resources online that will help them prevent and address bullying, cyberbullying and ways to stay safe online. The resources are:

  • Stopbullying.gov is a website operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and contains resources for educators, health and safety professionals, parents, children and the public.
  • Netsmartz.org is a site operated by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The site has resources about cyberbullying and Internet safety for parents, guardians, law enforcement, children and youth.
  • Internet Safety 101: Sexting is one guide featured on Internetsafety101.org, a website operated by Enough is Enough (EIE), an organization that has pioneered efforts to raise public awareness about the dangers of Internet pornography, sexual predators, cyberbullying and other Internet threats.
  • Microsoft Safety and Security Center has Internet safety tips for parents and families, including the section titled “Help Kids Stay Safer Online.”
  • PREVNet, is a national network of leading researchers and organizations working together to stop bullying in Canada; PREVNet provides numerous resources for children, teens, parents and educators on bullying and bullying prevention and intervention.
  • Cyberbullying Research Center provides research, data, presentations, resources and updates on issues related to electronic aggression and bullying. There are blog posts and materials for educators including resources such the Cyberbullying Activity: Word Find, an activity used to introduce students to important concepts related to cyberbullying and Internet safety. The site also provides tip sheets giving teens guidance on cell phone safety, password safety and smart social networking. On the site, educators can learn more about the Words Wound Curriculum, a school-based curriculum designed to give educators the tools to teach students how to use technology to combat cruelty and promote kindness. The program consists of a book for teens called “Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral.”