Parents learn about risks of technology
Westborough – Parents must be aware of what their children are using the Internet and cell phones for, not only to prevent bullying but also to keep their children safe and teach them how to protect their information and their futures.
That was the message Dr. Elizabeth Englander gave to a crowd of parents at Sarah Gibbons Middle School at a forum Jan. 14. The founder and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) at Bridgewater State University, Englander has done extensive research on bullying electronically, or cyber-bullying.
"You should monitor your children online," Englander said. "One primary lesson is that the Internet is not private. Their 'private profiles' are not private."
Students have suffered greatly from Internet "fun." According to Englander, one high school student lost an Ivy-League scholarship after the boy posted a false profile of a school administrator online, and his parents had to sell their house to pay for the resulting lawsuit.
The immediate access to instant messaging, text messages on cell phones, and even youtube has made cyber-bullying more prevalent, she said. Not only has the venue of bullying moved from the playground to the text message, but also bullies have changed, and therein lies the problem, Englander said. Bullies used to be the unsuccessful, socially isolated and physically aggressive students, she said, but that has changed.
"What's happened today is that children who bully other children are typically the most popular kids in school," Englander said. "Kids today have the idea that to be socially acceptable, you have to bully other kids … Abusers are linked with popularity."
When bullying goes electronic, it moves from the school to the home, and that is why parents have to be aware of what their children are doing online. In fact, she said children under 15 are not ready to handle text messages or Internet access on their cell phones. Her own three children, all under 15, live with that restriction, she added.
"As a parent, that was the best decision I ever made," she said.
Parents need to talk with their children, monitor their children and keep emphasizing several important points.
First: "Everything counts." If a child sends a threatening text message (e.g., "I'm gonna get you."), that is a crime and can be prosecuted, she said.
"No one cares if 'it's just a joke,'" she said.
Second: "We do see what you are doing." Children need to know parents are watching, and so is everyone else with Internet access, Englander said.
Third: "Don't let your emotions rule your behavior. Learn to cope with anger in a different way." Children who are bullied especially need to be careful; bullies want their victim to respond so they in turn can report the response, Englander said.
Fourth: "What looks like fun may be illegal," as in the case of the student posting a false profile.
Fifth: "Permanent record." Whatever is posted on the Internet stays on the Internet. For example, a student who posts and then removes an embarrassing video on youtube may not have deleted it entirely. Anyone who downloaded that video can post it again, Englander said. With 25 percent of colleges and 75 percent of employees checking potential students and employees online, that embarrassing video could cost a student an education or a job.
MARC offers parents a variety of resources at www. marccenter.org.
Westborough High School held a panel discussion on cyber issues Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m.
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