What to do in an Online Crisis: Five Steps for Parents
If something awful happened to your child online, would you know what to do? Do you know if it is serious enough to warrant police intervention? Which authority do you call? What do you do with the evidence?
Cyber-crime comes in all shapes and sizes. It encompasses the clearly deviant forms, such as child pornography; the stealthy forms such as phishing scams and malware attacks; and the “grey” kind (in the minds of some) such as copyright infringements (pirating music and software, for example). It can be international in scale or personal. Even cyberbullying in its more extreme forms constitutes criminal activity.
Cyber-crime, large or small, begets an awful sense of helplessness for both adult and young victims. The attacker is usually invisible; their intimidation lingers, potentially reappearing with every log-on. Those intangible assets such as a sense of safety and a good reputation can be destroyed.
A Parent’s Cyber-Nightmare
The possibility of online contact between a sexual predator and one’s child probably tops the list of parental dreads. It seems like one of those “it’ll never happen to us” types of events, but with kids using a greater variety of social media platforms and spending more time online, it’s not as unlikely as we’d like to think.
Cyber-aggression and cyberbullying, on the other hand, are commonplace. Popular media has blurred the distinction between the two, making the statistics on prevalence unreliable, but KidsHelpline reports that children aged 10-14 are most likely to be dealing with it. To help delineate: bullying is characterised by sustained or repeated hostile activity with the deliberate intention to belittle, ridicule, intimidate or harass. An imbalance of power is a significant factor. Cyberbullying involves the use of technology to carry out this line of activity. A one-off mean-spirited comment or post probably does not constitute bullying. What makes it tricky, however, is the fact that that one nasty comment or photo, once posted, is floating around cyberspace indefinitely.
Even after sorting through the media hype, there is no denying that cyberbullying can be devastating, and it’s illegal in some instances.
Parents need to ensure their children know how to get help if they encounter trouble while using electronic media. Knowing when and how to involve authorities is also critical for parents.
Parental Actions & Reactions
If your child comes to you with a problem, for example, cyberbullying or messages from creepy people…
- Don't overreact or lecture, and definitely DON’T enforce an immediate media ban. If your teens anticipate this type of reaction, they will not come to you in a crisis. Remember, a lot of young people would rather lose a limb than Wi-Fi access. That said, a temporary “system shutdown” may be appropriate if all else has failed to restore calm.
- Reassure them and assess the situation. Is this serious or is it an adolescent hormone-fueled squabble? Younger teens tend to suffer an inability to put things in perspective. Cyber-aggression is not necessarily cyberbullying.
- Take screen shots and write down URLs and any other information you can find. Don’t touch the browser history. Don’t delete any accounts. If needed, change passwords. Block problem people. (Here is a good place to learn how to take screen shots on a variety of devices. A URL is the web address, like “www.take-a-screenshot.org”.)
- Inform the company (Facebook, etc.) of a problem. Inform someone at the school or workplace if there is a significant link to either place. At Northside Christian College, the school coordinator or year level coordinator is a good place to start.
- Cyberbullying is illegal if it involves harassment or threats, if the personal or professional reputation of an individual is injured, or if it exposes the victim to ridicule or causes other people to avoid them. These instances warrant police intervention. Start local; they will advise if special authorities need to become involved. Ring Crime Stoppers if you're unsure.
One-size-fits-all answers to dealing with online problems don’t exist. There are just too many variables. However, there is one safety step that covers a multiplicity of problems that every young media user should know: Telling someone about trouble is the key. Hiding problems and keeping secrets allow the baddies to win.
Once again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so make sure your kids are skilled up to practise good netiquette. Monitor them well. Limit access (less time online means less opportunity for disaster).