I was reminiscing the other day about my high school days and how things have changed since those glorious times. We didn’t have computers, e-mail, only the seniors had cars (and not very many of them), no cell phones, no iPods or iPhones, no MTV and no social networking. That’s right! No Facebook, MySpace, StumbleUpon, Plaxo, Photobucket, Pandora or any of the other social networking websites.
Social networking websites are great to reconnect with old friends, communicate with your children and grandchildren that may be in another location, and many other forms of social interaction. They also have taken very negative aspects of social interaction to new and dangerous levels. Spatial limitations in this column allow me to discuss only one of these aspects: Cyber-Bullying.
All of us can remember the school bully who ruled the playground and park and made our lives difficult in our formative years. You may even have been one of those bullies but this is a lot different. The bullies of old were in your face, do this or you will be sorry, kind of guys who, in most cases were great people once you got to know them. Cyber-Bullies have the protection of not having to look at your face when they say something rotten about you or one of your friends. Many times, people will create a new account in a fictitious name to Cyber-Bully someone and the victim does not know who they are.
According to an article on www.isafe.org, among children in fourth through eight grades, 42 percent have been bullied while online and one in four have been multiple victims, 35 percent of kids have been threatened while online and one in five have experienced this multiple times, 21 percent of kids have received mean or threatening e-mails or other messages, 58 percent of kids say that someone has said mean or hurtful things about them online and four in 10 have said it has happened more than once, 53 percent of kids say they have said something mean or hurtful about someone else and one in three have done it more than once. And, finally, 58 percent of the children who have experienced this type of Cyber-Bullying have not told their parents about any of this.
Children are committing suicide over Cyber-Bullying and most are suffering in silence; afraid of retribution from the bullies if they tell anyone.
So what can be done?
Experts agree talking to your children is the best way of keeping the lines of communication open and helping your child. An excellent article written by a teenager can be read at http://www.adventuresinparenting.org/2008/02/14/social-network-sites-a-teens-point-of-view. A lot of information is available on the Internet for helping you keep your child safe online. Services like www.socialshield.com can help provide a safe online experience for a child by monitoring their activities on social networking sites and alerting you when questionable activities, friends or postings occur. They also have a $1 million guarantee against Cyber-Bullying.
Yes, times were simpler back in the day, but being able to make online tee times, buy nearly anything on eBay and order a pizza using the computer are things way too cool to give up.
Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services and lives in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (480) 753-7667.