Good and Not so Good News about Parents and Cyberbullying

This past week our school observed its 2nd Annual Cybersafety Awareness Week which focuses attention on helping our students be safe on the Internet. Activities included safety tips on the morning announcements, class activities, and students taking the Megan Pledge. Our Student Council decorated the school with black and white polka dotted ribbons, the symbol of cyberbullying awareness, and posters about not cyberbullying. A new thing we did this year was I talked with students about cybersafety. My topics were being careful you make a friend on social networks and being careful about the type of pictures of themselves that get posted on the Internet. It was a great week and the students were wonderful.

We made a great effort making our students aware of the problems of cyberbullying but does it work? According to cyberbullying experts Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin the trends of students telling responsible adults about cyberbullying incidents is increasing dramatically. In 2005 only 11.3% of cyberbully victims told their parents. In 2008 the researchers reported the number increased to 41.1% of victims who now inform their parents. The same research showed 29.7% of cyberbully victims tell teachers, up from just 3% in 2005. This shows the message of reporting cyberbullying to a responsible adult is sinking in. Good news indeed for parents who worry about their children.

Now the bad news. This past Wednesday, I attempted to have another presentation on cybersafety for parents at our school. Last year, I am embarrassed to say nobody showed up. Maybe we did not publicize it enough? This year our community relations person and I made sure we informed the news media of the event. As evidenced here our message got out. The weekly newsletter, our marquee, morning announcements, and Twitter also informed parents of the event. Kate Cerve, Education Reporter for the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette called to inform me she was coming to see what I had to say and get reactions from parents. Again, I set up a great presentations including the latest research. At the appointed hour the only person who came was Kate. While we had a good chat and she later wrote a great article, I know she was disappointed by lack of parent turnout. How will parents deal with the complex problem of cyberbullying if they don’t understand the nature of the threat or how to deal with it.

Anyone who has seen my cyberbullying presentations know I advocate awareness, understanding, communication, and most importantly observation to make students safe. Too often parents are deluded by the so-called “stranger danger” the news media and politicians like to talk about when talking about cybersafety. Parents are never told about the real threat to their children online. According to the Enhancing Child Safety & Online Technologies report by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force (2008) said “Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline.” (page 4 of the executive summary). The report further says “Those who are most at risk often engage in risky
behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.” (page 5) This means parents have to learn what the true nature of the cyberbullying problems so they can better help their children in case of attack. However, how will parents tackle this problem if they don’t come to meetings to educate themselves? Last year our district’s social workers brought in someone who preached stranger danger and purchase security software. The other thing the social workers did was feed them dinner. Maybe that is what I have to do, bribe the parents into coming.