Social media and texting are not like diaries and journals

girl textingNews of the apparent suicide of a local 12-year-old Central Florida girl who was allegedly the target of bullies has brought heartbreak not only for the pre-teen’s loved ones, but also parents and child protection advocates throughout the community.

“Bullying” has changed dramatically with the introduction of the social media and texting. Professionals clarify that the reason cyber-bullying can be so devastating to target children is that the use of technology allows the child to be repeatedly humiliated and victimized in front of not just one or two, but perhaps an entire audience of children, again and again. Such experience can do great harm to a child’s esteem and confidence.

DCF has teamed up with Echo, a Central Florida mobile and digital media company, to offer some tips to parents, not only of children who may be victims of cyber-bullying, but those parents whose children may be an aggressor:

  • Monitor your child’s technology. This includes social media outlets and phones. Ensure that the communication to and from your child is appropriate, if not, intervene.
  • Look for changes in your child’s behavior.¬†All children manage difficult experiences with other children differently, what may not greatly effect one child, may be significantly hurtful to another. If a child suddenly doesn’t want to participate in an activity, school or with other friends, find out why.
  • Be an example. Children are led by example, be a model to your child in how you treat or talk to others.
  • Take action. If you are concerned that your child may be the subject of bullying, whether on-line or in person, talk to your school and engage the parents of the other children that are involved.

What about the tech side of things?

  • Parents should always have passwords to children’s accounts.
  • Set privacy settings, do not rely on a child to do so.
  • Monitor chat and direct messengers, often times harsh words aren’t obviously shared on walls or in public, but in side messages, chats, or texts.
  • Check browser history for past search term to know what sites your child visits.

Concerned about respecting your child’s privacy? Remember, social media is two-way communication, different than that of a journal or diary. Monitoring communication can help a parent better protect a child from harm, especially those inappropriate parties who may reach out to a minor online. Echo experts note that parents don’t have to be tech savvy to monitor online activity or frequent Facebook and shouldn’t be intimidated. Learning some of the basic monitoring tools is sometimes as simple as logging into email.

Good communication with a child, long before they engage in social media, is important. Asking children for passwords or access doesn’t need to be seen as a threat, or invasion of privacy, rather an expectation of a protective and vigilant parent.

Our heartfelt condolences are extended to the loved ones of the 12-year-old victim.

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