Times Colonist Oct 2012

How parents can reduce bullying


Adults must get up to speed on online threats, experts say





Parents can play a critical role in helping reduce incidents of online bullying and getting help for young victims, experts say.

The issue was thrown into the spotlight by the recent death of Port Coquitlam teenager Amanda Todd, who took her own life just weeks after posting a video that told how she had been taunted and exploited online for years.

Victoria police Staff Sgt. Darren Laur regularly speaks to students about Internet and social media safety. He said it's crucial that parents and other adults get up to speed on issues like online predators, criminal harassment and other potential threats.

"Education is the key, and not just for the kids, but for the teachers, for the parents, for law enforcement, for everybody," he said.

After one recent talk to a high school, Laur said, he received more than 500 emails from students asking him to check their privacy settings on social media sites and offer tips on how to better protect themselves.

"Our kids - they're what I call digital citizens. Most adults are what I call digital immigrants. We don't understand the space as much as the kids do," he said.

"Once we become digital citizens, we can now have a communication flow with our kids on this topic, because, like it or not, they're the experts."

Theresa Campbell, one of the trainers for B.C.'s ERASE Bullying strategy, said the digital world is constantly changing.

"I have to work at remaining current as to where kids are communicating, where they're delivering threats to one another," she said. "I have to do that as a professional, but as parents we need to do that as well."

Campbell said a key message for parents is to keep the lines of communication open with their children so that they know if something goes awry.

"Typically you hear from kids, 'Allow me to talk. Listen to me,' " she said. "One of the things kids are fearful of is their parents overreacting."

Bonnie Leadbeater, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria, encouraged parents to begin early and learn about potential pitfalls of using social media along with their kids.

"The majority of kids do use social networking in positive ways to stay in touch with their friends, to make appointments, to be involved in volunteer activities," she said.

"[But] there are risks to the Internet, and you can start with your kids, as they're getting online, and walk through it with them and tell them what you're worried about."

Leadbeater said the other thing parents can do is get kids involved in sports, music or other activities - "things that require you to be with real people ... that really bring you out of your bedroom and occupy some of the time that you would be using online," she said.

She noted, however, that many parents are unable to afford extra activities. "So, as a country, why aren't we making those things more available to kids?"


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