October 17, 2010

Battling Cyber Bullies

A group of 200 people from educators to non-profits gathered at Yahoo on Friday for the fourth annual Digital Citizenship Summit to discuss how to battle cyber bullies and other dangers children may face on the Internet.

Yahoo gave the conference a sneak peek at a "Generation Safe" program being prepared for distribution by iKeepSafe.org.

The program is "a road map for school communities to identify and address children at risk," Yahoo director of child safety Catherine Teitelbaum said. "There is a role to be played by everyone in a child's life."

Cases of students taking their own lives after being tormented or humiliated by cyber bullies catapulted the topic to the top of the summit agenda.

As technology takes hold of the lifestyles of the young, students are apt to send out cries for help in Twitter tweets, social network updates, instant messages, emails, etc. of what they are feeling or thinking.

Adults should befriend the children in their lives at social networks and "follow" their comments online, according to summit attendees.

"You have to be there with them," said Teitelbaum. "Parents should use services their kids are using. If you don't know how, ask your child to show you their world."

Adults can help keep children grounded in the real world by limiting laptops and mobile phone usage during dinnertime and bedtime.

"We used to advise keeping the computer in the most highly-trafficked part of the house, but with the advance of super-powered mobile phones all that advice goes out the window," said Teitelbaum.

"Now, while kids may know the technology better than you, you are the adult and have life experience extremely valuable to their technology use."

While bullying in the real world can usually be left behind, like at a school yard, cyber bullying is broadly and repeatedly shared online making the harm deeper and longer lasting, according to summit goers.

US President Barack Obama said Thursday his "heart breaks" after reading about the case of a young man at Rutgers University who committed suicide after a fellow student posted footage of his relationship with another male student on the Internet.

Obama condemned harassment and bullying and said his administration was discussing ways to make young people feel safer and called on universities to do more.


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