Cyber Bullying: Now at a Computer Near You

NEWPORT, VT - Technological capabilities are expanding like wildfire. New and innovative products that continue to offer more and more are developed all the time and give people access like never before. With this access, information and expanding possibilities are readily available, but the information once on the Internet is always there and cannot be deleted. The technological capabilities are wondrous, yet come with many concerns.Today’s children and parents are the first generations to experience this and face dealing with the issues related to technology, including cyber bullying and cyber stalking.A technology safety program for the community was held Tuesday evening at the Gateway Center in Newport. The program was organized by the Community Forum Coalition, a group facilitated by Stephanie Currier, the Social Worker at North Country Union High School.The event was led by Detective Jennifer Harlow and Alyssa Berthiaume, with Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, before a group of parents, community leaders, educators and others.Currier said in an interview that the coalition, which includes several local organizations including enforcement, meets regularly, plans presentations on the most relevant current topics and decides what should be discussed with the public.The same presentation given Tuesday evening was also given to all North Country High School students at assemblies, Currier said, adding that it is important to present students and parents with the same information.Currier said cyber bullying is a growing problem. When someone harasses someone over the Internet, the perpetrator has less responsibility in experiencing the fallout and may harass more than he or she would have in a real life situation. The victim experiences the same painful feelings, but it is worse, Currier explained, because the messages on the Internet are widespread and lasting.Currier said a goal is to be familiar with technology and use it in our lives in a healthy way.Berthiaume, in her presentation, stressed that parents should be familiar with any electronic gadgets their children have, even before they give it to the child, or allow their child to have access. She also said that parents should know who is on all their children’s contact lists.Opening clear lines of communication with children and discussing some of the message children see should be practiced regularly, she said.Harlow is surprised by how much personal information people give out on the Internet on sites such as the social network Facebook, which is public. She reminded everyone that the information posted will always be there even if a person tries to delete it. “The Internet never forgets.”Now colleges and potential employers may search for students or employees on the Internet, including social networking sites, before accepting the person, Harlow explained. She warned that almost all phones have cameras and recording capabilities, and that many people utilized the features and can put the photos or videos on the Internet within seconds. Whatever is added with be there forever.Harlow also cautions on cyber stalkers. These stalkers are skilled at luring kids and may ask for pictures, personal information, and possibly to meet in person. These stalkers may pretend to be a child, when in reality they are adult predators or criminals.Technology has many benefits including communication and learning. But there are potential risks include cyber bullying (harassing someone on-line), sexting (sending explicit photos over the Internet), scams, and violent on-line gaming.By supervising, setting ground rules, staying informed and preforming frequent safety checks, parents and caregivers can feel better about their children’s safety and all that technology has to offer.