July 13, 2008

Note to Parents: Children Are Being Bullied on Internet

By Simone Peloquin, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.

Jul. 13--Bullying isn't restricted to playgrounds anymore.

Instead, research shows that many students are changing their bullying tactics as technology develops, moving from schoolyard brawling to cyberbullying on the Internet.

Justin Patchin, assistant professor of criminal justice in UW-Eau Claire's political science department, was asked to judge a national public service advertising development contest to raise awareness of the problem of cyberbullying.

"We learned that about one-third of students have experienced some type of cyberbullying," said Patchin, who has researched and written about the issue for five years. "Many adults are not even aware of this kind of bullying, and we are trying to educate teachers and parents on how to respond to this misuse of technology."

Cyberbullying occurs when children use information and communications technology such as e-mail, the Internet and cell phones to bully or harass other kids. When those same activities happen among adults, it's called cyberstalking or cyberharassment.

"Kids who would never do it in real life are cyberbullying," Patchin said.

Patchin judged the short public service ads submitted to the contest with movie director and producer Barry Sonnenfeld, director and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk, and members of the Ad Council's Campaign Review Committee.

The contest was sponsored by Sony Creative Software, the National Crime Prevention Council and the Ad Council.

The traditional reaction of a parent to cyberbullying has been to tell their child to ignore the bully. Patchin said this is a naive response and one that is not effective in solving the problem.

"Many students don't know where to turn for help; adults should not just dismiss their problem," he said. "To adolescents, peer approval means everything."

Patchin said the perception of these attacks to youth is that everyone can know about them because they are online. Even if kids log off, do not go online or don't respond to e-mails or texts, they are still being victimized.

In an age when the Internet and social networking are supposed to foster relationships, cyberbullying is really severing them, Patchin said. Many kids use this type of bullying because it is easy to text or create a Web page and there is no immediate response or consequence for the behavior.

"Kids tend to think it is OK because they can't see the harm or the outcome in it," he said. "They think they won't get caught. With traditional bullying it is your word against mine."

Patchin said the best way for parents to help with this problem is to be aware of what their kids are doing and to monitor their online activities. He suggested parents learn how to use MySpace, Facebook and other social networking sites. Patchin also suggested they set up their own accounts and profiles so they can get involved in the online activities their kids take part in.

Peloquin can be reached at 833-9203, 800-236-7077 or [email protected]


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