CYBER SAFETY: Talking to your kids about cyberbullying & the power of technology

(AP file)

(WLNS) – It used to be the computer was in the kitchen where parents could monitor what their children were looking at online. Or who they were chatting with. Now it’s a little more challenging.

Kids as young as ten have smartphones, they’re basically carrying computers in their hands.

So the question for parents now is: How do you keep them safe when they have this powerful technology at their fingertips?

After talking to a mom who lost her daughter at the age of 15 because of being bullied over social media, the cost of not getting involved in your child’s life online is too high.

Deann Smith has been there. “I think there needs to be a time and place for the cellphone or the computer. It needs to be in the family room or in the kitchen. They shouldn’t be on their phones in their bedroom because if some hurtful words come across then you are going to see it on their faces that something is wrong. And only then can we intervene and save some lives.”

Deann knows this all too well. Her daughter took her own life at the age of 15 because of being bullied online through social media and apps like Snapchat.

Taylor Elizabeth Smith – known as Tay to those who loved her – went to Williamston High School until December of her 9th grade year.

The bullying had been going on for years. When her high school counselor thought giving her a fresh start would be helpful, Tay and her family moved to Howell. Tay’s first day school was January 3, 2011.
She was excited to start in a new school where she could have a fresh start but her past followed her and she choose to end her life 53 days later.

Deann has a message of her own for those kids who tore down Tay’s self-esteem and self-image.

“You can never, ever take back a word or a typed message. It’s there forever. So stop and think about what you are saying and how you would feel because what if those words were the last thing that that person has ever heard and the next day they are gone. I know that’s very harsh but that’s reality.”

Deann didn’t have access to Tay’s passwords until she discovered them in her journal after she had passed away. Now she urges parents to have them to open the window to your child’s life online.

“If they are adult enough to have the phone, to have the technology, then they need to be adult enough to give us parents their passwords. It’s our responsibility as parents to look at that stuff.”

Michigan State Police Detective Ken Weismiller agrees and says parents also should talk to their kids about what’s out there on the internet even before they get a phone. And then when they do, he says the conversation should continue with “trust and time limits” being at the center of it.

“If there is a problem a the parent can recognize it before it’s coming in. Or the child feels comfortable to share it with someone, whether a teacher or someone they trust, their parents. Kids being on the internet and having unrestricted access to it, being a very young age, are much more likely to be exploited or more attempts to be exploited.”

Detective Weismiller says parents need to know that kids have a tough time differentiating between what they see on social media and real-life. And many times that can lead to them being bullied or even exploited online.

“There is anonimity with Facebook and Snapchat, no one knows me so if I post this picture it’s fine, if I post this comment it’s fine. The internet is a public place and chance are more than one person can view that and once it’s out there it’s hard to retrieve it back.”

We know the internet isn’t going away any time soon and with new technology comes new ways to bully. Experts say the more they learn about kids and smartphones, the more parents will see that limiting their exposure is a good idea.

“We were given a gift to parent these children and that’s our job to protect them the best we can and there are tools to do that.”

An app that could be helpful for parents is CIRCLE DISNEY

There are also websites that help you spot the signs of cyberbullying. Check out The National Crime Prevention Council and Social Networking Tips for Parents

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