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Is Your Kid a Cyberbully?

By helle Hainer

When I was a kid, bullying meant getting roughed up on the playground or being taunted in the cafeteria by classmates who thought it was cool to make other kids feel small. But nowadays, there’s a whole new arena where bullies attack: the Internet.

Girls are particularly caught up in being mean. If your daughter is a master, sit her down and have a talk ASAP. Not only is she unnecessarily hurting other kids, but unlike schoolyard snubs -- which fade from memory faster -- when you bully someone online, it’s there forever. So that fit of fury you had at 12 can haunt you well into your 20s -- not actually the image you want to portray as an adult.

While you definitely need to address why any kind of bullying is a bad idea, discouraging your kids from cyberbullying is crucial. At the risk of going all Big Brother on them, if you suspect they are harassing classmates online, join the social networks they frequent and become their friend. Your kids are less likely to make derogatory comments if they know you’re reading them too.

Here’s what else you can do:

1. Talk to your kids and make sure they know that what they post online today can be around forever. And that they can get in trouble with you and the school if they’re caught harassing anyone online.

2. Ask them: How do they want to be treated by their friends online? What’s OK and not OK with them? What are the boundaries they’re willing to set with their friends and for their own behavior?

3. Get them in the bully’s shoes: Ask what they think it feels like to be a target online. What would they tell a friend who got cyberbullied?

It’s not just about setting the rules but bringing out your kids’ compassion so they can monitor their own behavior -- and its impact.

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