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How to Protect Your Preteen from Cyberbullying

It’s not just a high school problem. Being proactive can help you reduce the odds of your child becoming the victim of a cyberbully. From Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age by James P. Steyer.

Studies suggest that around 20 percent of tweens have been victims of cyberbullying. It’s a serious problem. Eleven- and twelve-year-olds can be cruel to each other, and IMing, texting, and social networking makes it easy for bullies to target and attack kids relentlessly, publicly, and anonymously. The effects can be terrible and tragic. Kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to have low self-esteem, depression, and problems with family and school; they can be afraid to go to class and even have suicidal thoughts. The good news is that there are steps you can take to minimize the chances your child will be a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying:

• Don’t let your eleven- or twelve-year-old use Facebook or other social networks. A recent study found that more than half of all cyberbullying incidents happen on social media.

• Don’t give your tween a cell phone with unrestricted text messaging capabilities. Nearly 40 percent of cyberbullying takes place using cell phones and texting.

• Keep the computer and other Internet devices out of your child’s bedroom. If your child is being cyberbullied and has online access in her own room, she’ll have no escape from the cruel harassment.

• Talk to your child about safe online behavior. Explain that he should never share anything private or do anything that feels uncomfortable. Remind him that it’s never appropriate to sext, embarrass anyone, or say hateful things in person or online.

• Teach your kid to stand up for others. If a friend is being cyberbullied, he should never take part. He should flag cruel comments and tell a teacher or other trusted adult.

• Check your kid’s online accounts. Read her IMs, social network comments, and texts to see what she and her peers are saying and chatting about. If you don’t know what’s going on in your child’s life—and tweens are living more and more of their lives online—you won’t be able to help.

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