Parent Buzz Newsletter - Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
The Parent Buzz
A Newsletter for Parents from Let's Be Honest
January 2010 - Issue 19

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Welcome to The Parent Buzz, an e-newsletter designed especially for parents and caregivers of middle school-aged children by Let's Be Honest, the Parent Education program of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

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Bullying is a bad memory that many of us as parents can recall from our own days as children and adolescents. Bullying can have serious negative effects on a child's self-esteem, relationships, academic performance, and overall emotional, social and physical health.

According to the Stop Bullying Now Campaign by the Dept. of Health and Human Services, bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Usually, it is repeated over time and can involve actions such as: hitting or punching (physical bullying), teasing or name-calling (verbal bullying), or intimidation through gestures or social exclusion.
In recent years, technology has given children and youth a new means of bullying each other. Cyberbullying, or online social cruelty or electronic bullying, can happen through use of emails, instant messaging, text or digital imaging messages sent on cell phones, web pages, chat rooms or blogs. Cyberbullying can involve sending mean, vulgar or threatening messages, or posting sensitive, private information about another person. Cyberbullying can occur any time of the day or night. Cyberbullying messages and images can be distributed quickly to a very wide audience. And, children and youth can be anonymous when cyberbullying, which makes it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to trace them.

Parents often lament that they can't keep up with the technology their children are using. However, parents are also the number one line of defense against cyberbullying and the number one resource for a child who has been bullied. A strong parent-child relationship is the best way to identify and help a child who has been cyberbullied, or to prevent a child from engaging in cyberbullying behavior.
Recent studies have found that cyberbullying is a problem faced by many of our youth.

  • 18% of students in grades 6-8 said they had been cyberbullied at least once in the last couple of months; and 6% said it had happened to them 2 or more times.
  • 11% of students in grades 6-8 said they had cyberbullied another person at least once in the last couple of months, and 2% said they had done it two or more times.
  • 19% of regular Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 reported being involved in online aggression; 15% had been aggressors, and 7% had been targets (3% were both aggressors and targets).
  • 17% of 6-11 year-olds and 36% of 12-17-year-olds reported that someone said threatening or embarrassing things about them through email, instant messages, web sites, chat rooms, or text messages.

Changes in your child's behavior is a clue that he or she may be the victim of a cyberbully. Most children are reluctant to tell their parents about cyberbullying. The most frequently given advice is for parents to take note if their child: spends more time than usual online, changes his or her group of good friends or stops spending time with them altogether, or seems withdrawn or depressed and uninterested in spending time with family or on hobbies that he or she used to love.
According to Parry Aftab, Executive Director of and an authority on cyberbullying, parents can draw on their "old-fashioned" knowledge of how to deal with the schoolyard bully to help in dealing with a cyberbully. Aftab suggests common sense prevention tips such as:

  • Keep your home computer(s) in easily viewable places, such as a family room or kitchen.
  • Tell your children to keep personal information such as their name, address, telephone number, school, and physical attributes, to themselves.
  • Limit the amount of time your child spends online, and make sure family time takes priority.
  • Talk specifically about cyberbullying and encourage your child to tell you immediately if he or she is the victim of cyberbullying, or other illegal or troublesome online behavior.
  • Encourage your child to tell you if he or she is aware of others who may be the victims of such behavior.
  • Explain that cyberbullying is harmful and unacceptable behavior. Outline your expectations for responsible online behavior and make it clear that there will be consequences for inappropriate behavior.
  • Make sure your child practices good cyberbehavior, such as refraining from illegal downloads, or "flaming", that is, sending a provoking message through a chat room or e-mail. If your child has been flamed, tell him to "walk away," that is, exit the cybersite, and tell you or the moderator of the site.
  • After walking away, encourage your child to find ways to help them calm down. This may include doing yoga, or deep-breathing. It may include running, playing catch or shooting hoops. It may involve taking a bath, hugging a stuffed animal or talking on the phone with friends.

As parents, it is important for us to explain to our children that the words they send out via the Internet are never really private again. It can be a challenging concept for many children to understand that their online behavior potentially has as many, if not more, consequences as face to face contact. Youth need to understand that they need to behave as carefully online as they would in every day contact with another person. Before they say something cruel or get angry with someone in an email or on an Internet site, children should think twice before sending those strong words. Once words are on the Internet, they are there forever and others whom they do not want to see those words may end up seeing them.

The key for kids is knowing enough to stop and tell their parents, and for parents to keep a close eye on their children both online and off.

For more information on cyberbullying, visit: (US Dept. of Health and Human Services) (The National Crime Prevention Council)

Kowalski, R. et al (August, 2005). Electronic Bullying Among School-Aged Children and Youth. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC.

Opinion Research Corporation (2006). Cyber bully pre-teen. Available at:

Wolak, J., Mitchell, K., & Finkelhor, D. (2006). Online victimization of youth: Five years later. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Ybarra, M. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2004). Youth engaging in online harassment: Associations with caregiver-child relationships, Internet use, and personal characteristics. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 319-336.

Don't forget to visit our website for helpful tips, information about workshops, and much more. Don't miss an opportunity to be the primary sexuality educator for your children.
Need help? Call our Parent Education Team at (617) 616-1658.

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Planned Parenthood League of MA

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