UCLA study suggests most kids suffer from cyber-bullying

And they don't tell their parents about it.

By Cyrus Farivar
Published October 3, 2008 9:00PM (EDT)

A new UCLA study of nearly 1,500 12-to-17-year-olds finds that 72 percent of respondents self-reported "at least one incident" of bullying online, which can take the form of name-calling or insults, "most typically" through instant messaging or social networking sites. Further, nearly all (90 percent) said that they didn't report these incidents of cyber-bullying to an adult, and half of them said that they just "need to learn to deal with it."

Many kids surveyed said that they were very worried that their parents might restrict Internet access if they knew what was going on online.

Jaana Juvonen, the lead author on the paper, and a professor of psychology at UCLA, said in a statement:

"Many parents do not understand how vital the Internet is to their social lives," she said. "Parents can take detrimental action with good intentions, such as trying to protect their children by not letting them use the Internet at all. That is not likely to help parent-teen relationships or the social lives of their children."

So then here's the question: What should we do about it? If kids won't talk to their parents about the problem, is just "deal with it" the appropriate answer?

I think that we need to be clear about what is and what isn't cyber-bullying, first and foremost. If I leave a message on my friend's Facebook profile with something to the effect of "u r an idiot. lol. haha," does that count as an insult? I think we need a better way to distinguish between friends joking around and those who have actual malicious intent. And for that, what we really need is better communication between parent and child concerning malicious behavior, to help kids understand the difference between an idle joke and a serious threat.

As much as I may have come after Microsoft in my last post, the company's tips are actually pretty good:

Learn everything you can about the Internet and what your kids are doing online. Ask your kids to show you where they go online and what they like. Keep the lines of communication open so your kids feel comfortable coming to you for help if they encounter anything disturbing.

Create an online agreement with input from your kids. The agreement should have clear guidelines for where they can go on the Internet and what they can do.

Monitor and supervise your children's Internet use. Generally, children under 10 do not have the critical-thinking skills to surf the Net alone. It's a good practice to keep connected computers in a highly visible area, not in your child's room.

That said, there will always be some things that kids end up hiding from their parents, and parents can't be looking over their kids shoulders 24/7 -- but the young need the moral tools to know how to best deal with this type of situation.

For those of you who are parents, how do you deal with this type of situation?

(Via New York Times' Well blog)

Cyrus Farivar

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