Committee for Children Blog

Internet Safety Tips—Keeping Youth Safe Online

cuber bullying, victim, young boy, sad

We all know that bullying is a problem in schools. But now that many students have their own computers and cell phones and are interacting more and more online, they may be at increased risk of exposure to a new form of harassment: cyber bullying.

According to Nancy E. Willard, author of Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats, “It is possible that the harm caused by cyber bullying may be even greater than harm caused by traditional bullying.” Some of Willard’s reasons for this statement are that victims can’t escape from the bullying because the Internet is available all the time, it is difficult to remove material from the Internet once it’s posted, it is possible to distribute harmful material worldwide, and it is possible to bully anonymously.

Cyber bullying can range from threats, embarrassing or cruel rumors, harassment, and stalking to posting derogatory digital photos. According to a 2006 survey of 1,000 kids by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, one-sixth of all children between the ages of 6 and 11 have had mean, threatening, or embarrassing things said about them online.

The good news is that you and your students’ parents or guardians can help students become safe online.

How Parents Can Help Children Stay Safe Online

Attempting to help children stay safe creates a Catch-22: Students don’t tell because they don’t see adults helping, but adults can’t help if students don’t tell them what is going on in their peer groups.

The perception that adults don’t act may lead students to conclude that adults don’t care, or that there are different standards for adults’ behavior than for young people’s. In the workplace, shoving co-workers in the hallway would not be tolerated. Yet many adults believe that young people need to “work out” bullying problems like these on their own. This belief may promote a code of silence about abusive behavior. A logical consequence would be the failure of students to report other dangers, such as knowledge about a weapon at school.

Talk About Internet Safety

Children need to be just as careful about opening a door online as they are about opening the front door to strangers. They should never:

  • Give out personal information online without a parent’s or guardian’s permission
  • Respond to messages that are suggestive, belligerent, or threatening, or that make them feel uncomfortable
  • Click on any links in an email from someone they do not know

Help children understand that mean people on the Internet can hurt them with words, but that they can be safer if they:

  • Don’t respond to or forward emails or messages that are mean or spread rumors
  • Don’t open emails or messages from someone they know bullies others
  • Block messages from anyone who cyber bullies
  • Save or print all bullying messages
  • Show the messages to an adult they trust—like a parent or a teacher—and ask for help (if the first adult they tell doesn’t help, they should keep telling until someone does)
  • Never arrange to meet someone in person who is bullying them online

As Second Step: Student Success Through Prevention advises teachers, cyber bullying can reach a larger number of students than face-to-face bullying can, and because it can be done anonymously, targeted students may find it more difficult to respond to or stop the harassment.

Learn more about social-emotional learning, research on the topic, and how it benefits students in the classroom, at home, and in their daily lives.