Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.
The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.
Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.
The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:
Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized. Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.
Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.
Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.
Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.
Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.