Parents Need to be Aware
Has Gone Hi-Tech
The Prince Edward Island
Home and School Federation
March 9, 2006
The Prince Edward Island Home and School Federation thanks you for this opportunity to come and present our concerns and ideas on an issue that is becoming increasingly serious in our schools and society Ė cyberbullying.
Most of us are aware of bullying at school. We likely have talked with our children about who was being bullied, offered advice or intervened if our child was being bullied, or dealt with complaints that our child may even be a bully. This type of bullying, as damaging as the experience can be, is for the most part restricted to the school property or within its vicinity. But cyberbullying extends to the world, can be even more dangerous and damaging, and cannot be erased.
The saying that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" has never been comforting to those who have experienced bullying. At Home and School, we are very proud of the amazing work that Tami Martell, a former board member, had done over the past decade to build awareness of the impact and seriousness of verbal abuse.
The PEI Home and School Federation has placed priority over the years on helping to make our schools and communities safe and accepting places for all of our children. For example, last spring, we coordinated three Diversity Youth Forums across PEI which involved almost 2,000 Grade 8 students and their teachers in a day of discussions and presentations on diversity and openness. In 2000, we sponsored Reverend Dale Lang to come to PEI and speak about the events that led to the tragic death of his son in Taber, Alberta in 1999 at the hands of another student. Our organization has sponsored speakers on Internet safety at our provincial, local, and regional meetings. Projects have developed a teen violence prevention video "LEAVE" or "Letís End Adolescent Violence Everywhere" and two video scripts, "The Party Girl" and "Egg Boy" on internet safety/bullying and alcohol & drug for grades 9-12.
The expansion of communications channels, including, weblogs, chat rooms, emailing, text messaging, and hate websites, and the continuing growth in the number of Island families with home access to the Internet, is exposing more and more of our children to greater risks of being cyberbullied in more ways.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is being cruel to another person by sending or posting hurtful materials using the Internet or cell phone. It includes:
Who are Cyberbullies?
Children who engage in what they may think is a practical joke can find themselves in very deep Internet waters, and there is no turning back. Once the information is out there, it cannot be retrieved or erased. Their practical joking can become outright cyberbullying, and the target's reputation can be damaged.
Cyberbullies can be lurking on the Internet and may not even know their target. They can also engage the involvement of others online whom the target does not know. It can be considered pure entertainment for these people. What can make it worse is victims often do not want to report cyberbullying to their parents because they are traumatized by it, and they do not want to take the chance of losing their Internet and cell phone privileges.
Who is Vulnerable to Cyberbullying?
Potentially anyone can be vulnerable to cyberbullying, but the most likely victims include:
Because the Internet is accessed in the privacy of their homes, young people can mistakenly feel invisible on the Internet and have a false feeling of "you can't see me." They can be deluded to feel free and uninhibited.
Cyberbullying is Very Intrusive
What are Some "Red Flag" Signs of Cyberbullying?
What can Parents Do to Educate their Children on Cyberbullying?
How to Protect your Children: A Parentís Story
Part of the beauty of raising a child on Prince Edward Island is the protection and closeness of small communities where we know each other, but even here on PEI, parents need to be very aware of the larger Internet community, the ramifications and consequences of unsupervised Internet use in your home and ultimately the wellbeing and safety of your children.
Here is a story from an Island parent whose child is presently experiencing cyberbullying.
Out of respect for their privacy, they will not be identified; however the story is similar to that of many parents who are experiencing this sinister type of bullying. They speak first hand about the strategies they recommend and are using to protect their children.
The parent says,
We have to watch our daughter almost 24 hours a day because she has become so devastated about being bullied at school and being cyberbullied.
Our daughter has had embarrassing pictures taken of her in the school locker room and posted on a websites, emailed and spread physically around the school. She has received mean messages and threats through MSN and email.
As parents we have had to take excessive measures to protect our daughter as well as our two sons while at the same time allowing them access to computers, the Internet and MSN. We keep a very close eye on their computer use
Parents need to be educated on ways to monitor computer use.Here is a list of what we do which we hope will be helpful to other parents.
monitor and block Internet access at the first sign of problems. Parents who allow computers in the child's room should have a high degree of computer expertise so they can supervise Internet activity.
These are strategies that this family set up for their children. These parameters change with our trust and the age of our children and their understanding of the dangers around cyberbullying and Internet access.
Other Advice to Parents
There are a number of excellent websites that can educate parents and teachers about cyberbullying. They include:www.cyberbullying,org and www.cyberbullying.ca http://www.bullying.org
As communications technology develops, it is so important for parents to be aware of the technology and the dangers that it can pose for our children. It is very important to keep a good communication with our children, so they as well understand the full consequences of the technology they are using.
What Needs to Be Done?
As we have outlined, cyberbullying is an increasingly important concern in our society. It is not just more of the same kind of bullying that we knew as children ourselves. It is a new kind of bullying, more diverse, often more hurtful, more invasive and more lasting than traditional bullying.
Also, unlike traditional bullying, it reaches into the home, and this places a new level of responsibility on parents to protect their children. In fact, parents are the only people who can protect their children against being cyberbullied in their own home.
Some parents may hesitate to use the strategies that we have suggested because they may seem like invasions of their childís privacy. It is vital for parents to accept that they have the responsibility to protect their children against cyberbullying, and that this gives them the right to monitor their childís online activities and communications.
In addition, many parents need to develop the computer knowledge and skills to carry out the strategies we have described. It is vital to find ways to support and carry out expanded parent education sessions on computer training to "cyber-proof" their homes and their families.
We urge the Committee to recommend development of a strategy for family education in this important area. The PEIHSF would be pleased to partner with the education system, the health system, the Community Access Program system, the justice system, and parent and youth groups in this initiative.
Many employers, like the provincial government, offer different options to employees. Perhaps the provincial government should promote the options it has avaiable to its employees. For example:
This would allow parents to spend more time with their children.
Even more importantly, the schools, in partnership with parents and communities, play a vital role in promoting acceptance, respect, and tolerance. Initiatives like Peaceful Schools, the school district policies such as Caring and Respectful Places to Learn, and a host of school-based anti-bullying programs are making a difference by tackling the root causes of cyberbullying.
We also ask that the Committee recommend that issues related to bullying and to promotion of acceptance and tolerance be given high priority by the Department of Education in its school improvement planning processes, and that the development of school improvement indicators take account of the study findings on the importance of sustained, long-term, school-wide measures to promote acceptance and to reduce aggression and bullying.
In closing, we thank you for this opportunity to present our concerns and suggestions, and wish you well in your work.