Cyberbullying - Ways to Protect Your Child
By Martin Lenkowsky / April 1, 2015

In days past, bullying was confined to playgrounds, schoolyards, locker rooms, gym class, hallways, and classrooms whenever the teacher turned his or her back. Sadly, nowadays, there's a brand new dimension to bullying; it's called cyberbullying. Rather than using his (or her) fists to invoke fear and terror on a hapless victim, the twenty-first century remake of the bully need only use a computer keyboard, smartphone or other tools of our new - and forever expanding - technology to inflict pain and hurt on others.

"When we were growing up, we did it in person," stated Jody Gaver, guidance director at Taravella High School in Coral Springs. "It's definitely real. It definitely happens." Gaver explained that today's technological boom has both its good and bad points. "Some things we can do with technology are wonderful," she noted, adding that cyberbullying is a downside.
She pointed out that it's up to parents to monitor what web sites their kids are on. "Social media is very embedded in these kids' lives. It (cyberbullying) doesn't happen to everyone, but it does happen." According to Gaver, kids might get on a social media site like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and see others saying mean and inappropriate things. "Sometimes others are not even talking about them, but they think they are."

Jake Brooks, 12, a Brooklyn resident visiting family in Coral Springs, said he's known a few peers who've been cyberbullied. "It was on Instagram," he explained. "People were posting pictures of them they didn't want shown." Jake's also had friends who informed him that others have been "mean to them online." He commented that his friends did the right thing: "They reported it to the school."

Sometimes, just reporting it and bringing it out into the open makes the victims feel better, according to Jake. Alerting their parents or someone in authority is what he would always recommend to a friend or anyone else being bullied online. "Sometimes when it's reported, those doing the bullying realize for the first time someone was hurt." Yet, Jake feels in some ways getting bullied in person can actually be worse. "Getting bullied in person, you can get physically hurt, but online you can get emotionally hurt. Online you can always block them or ignore them. It's not easy to do that in person."

Sgt. Carla Kmiotek is the public information officer for the Coral Springs Police Department. She said cyberbullying is indeed an issue these days. "Usually our school resource officers try to deal with it at the school level. As a precautionary measure, the schools start teaching about it at the fifth-grade level. We try to educate parents as well to make sure they're monitoring their kids," she explained. "Parents have to know all their kids' passwords," added Kmiotek. "It's not just the known apps like Facebook or Twitter. There are other ones popping up every day like chat rooms."

Experts and law enforcement officials all agree good parenting is the first line of defense in protecting their children from cyberbullying. "They might not even know whether their child is either being bullied or the one doing the bullying," Kmiotek noted. She explained when they discover a case of cyberbullying, the first thing they do is try to contact the parents if it's in its initial stages. "Our main goal in the schools is to try to work through these problems," Kmiotek stated. "Usually we're able to handle it before it gets to the point of being a criminal act." She added that if a situation becomes severely out of control, it could ultimately fall under the statute of cyberstalking, a criminal offense.

Jody Levitt, a Coral Springs resident and mother of two girls, ages 9 and 11, tries to nip any potential problems in the bud by not letting her children go on Facebook. Plus, "They're not getting smartphones until I think they're mature enough." Taking a similar approach is Richard Ouellette, senior county director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County. "We don't allow children to have cell phones visible to prevent cyberbullying," he said. "It wasn't really an issue at any of our clubs, and we don't want it to become an issue. We also train our (adult) club members to be cautious as well. If there's a problem, they could lose their jobs."

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