Cyber-bullying: How to Help Protect Your Kids

Former Key Biscayne Police Office Vicki Hernandez, now retired, shared these tips with parents and guardians while serving the Village:

As a member of the Key Biscayne K-8 Center's Anti-Bullying Committee (ABC), I have heard students talk about varying degrees of bullying that they experience, or see, on a day-to-day basis at school. Members of the faculty, parents, and student representatives meet monthly to discuss ways to prevent, or help victims deal with bullying that happens at school.

Unfortunately, what we hear about the most involves cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying is bullying but with the use of technology (phones, email, iPads, iPods, online video games, social media). Cyber-bullying is harder to address at the school level, especially because most of it is done off campus. Technology is a wonderful thing, but before we entrust our children with this ‘power’, we need to make sure they know how to act responsibly. It is also imperative that we monitor our children's online lives, just as we monitor their off-line lives.You wouldn't allow a stranger to walk in to your home and assault your child, but by allowing your child access to an unlimited, uncensored online world, you are doing almost the same thing.

And it's not just strangers we have to worry about. Tweens and teens can be cruel online. The perceived anonymity that a computer screen affords oftentimes triggers them to say things they would never say to a person's face. Our children, for the most part, are so much more tech savvy than we are. They quickly learn how to navigate new online sites. They have their own online languages. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are familiar to almost every child over the age of nine. One of the newest sites causing concern these days is Instagram. As one of the students on the ABC put it the other day, "Nobody uses Facebook anymore. It's all about Instagram."

Most parents who have heard of Instagram probably don't know that it is more than a place to share photos. For the most part, photo sharing is not the concern. The ability to comment on the photos is where the problems come in. Someone posts a photo at a party that another friend was not invited to. Feelings are hurt, and a negative comment is made. That's all it takes. Gone are the days of approaching your friend face-to-face and talking about what happened. Now it's all done online, for all of our "friends" to see, and comment about. And comment they do, and it's usually not very pretty.

Children also need to be constantly reminded that what they say and do online can be permanent. All it takes is someone to copy and paste a photo or post, and forward it or share it with their friends and that's it. It lives on and on and on. You can't delete it once you've sent it. Many students have been denied entry to a much sought after college, or job because of careless posts from the past.

Monitor your child's online activity. There are lots of helpful tools for parents who want to be involved. If you are lucky enough to have your child come to you with a concern about cyber-bullying, don't brush it off. Please don't use the "sticks and stones may break your bones" line. Bullying and cyber-bullying can cause lasting emotional scars. Remember, bullying stops when the victim is no longer near the bully, but cyber-bullying is 24-7. It follows the victim everywhere.

This is a serious problem we are facing, and we need to work together to solve it. Please don't let Key Biscayne be the next community to deal with a child's suicide due to inappropriate online behavior.

Talk to your kids about what they see going on, both online and offline. Ask them if they have ever participated in bullying or cyber-bullying. If they're honest with you, you might be surprised by their answer. Ask them if they have ever been a victim. Again, you might be surprised by the answer, but it could be a good starting place for an open discussion, and they will see that you care and want to help. I encourage you to visit or Google "Parent Tips about Cyber-bullying" for more helpful information. For more information on keeping your children safe online, visit








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