Bullying at School: Resources and the Rights of Students with Special Needs

Students with disabilities are bullied at a higher rate than their typical peers. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, providing a good opportunity to review information about available resources and actions families can take.

According to Disability Scoop magazine, about half of individuals with autism, intellectual disabilities, speech impairments and learning disabilities are bullied at school. The rate of bullying for typical students is about 10 percent.

A student who is identified as having a disability has added layers of protection against bullying. Those protections are upheld by the United States Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which in 2014 issued a Dear Colleague Letter to remind school staff of their obligations to protect students with disabilities against bullying:

“While there is broad consensus that bullying is wrong and cannot be tolerated in our schools, the sad reality is that bullying persists in our schools today, and especially so for students with disabilities,” the letter states. “This troubling trend highlights the importance of OCR’s continuing efforts to protect the rights of students with disabilities through the vigorous enforcement of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II). It also underscores the need for schools to fully understand their legal obligations to address and prevent disability discrimination in our schools.”

Students on Section 504 Plans and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) qualify for the protections of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Special services, accommodations and programming designed to meet specific, unique needs are what make education “appropriate” for a student with an identified disability. According to OCR, a school’s failure to address bullying can be determined as a denial of FAPE, “when a school knows or should know of bullying conduct based on a student’s disability.”

The OCR goes on to say that a school “must take immediate and appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. If a school’s investigation reveals that bullying based on disability created a hostile environment…the school must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the bullying, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent it from recurring, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”

The U.S. Department of Education maintains an online blog called Homeroom. An article, Keeping Students with Disabilities Safe from Bullying, states that students will disabilities are particularly vulnerable because of physical issues, challenges with social skills and intolerant environments. “Students who are targets of bullying are more likely to experience lower academic achievement, higher truancy rates, feelings of alienation, poor peer relationships, loneliness, and depression,” the article states. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our schools are safe and positive learning environments—where all students can learn.”

Washington State defines harassment, intimidation, or bullying (RCW 28A.300.285) as “any intentional electronic, written, verbal, or physical act…” that:

  1. Physically harms a student or damages the student’s property
  2. Has the effect of substantially disrupting a student’s education
  3. Is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating or threatening educational environment
  4. Has the effect of substantially disrupting the orderly operation of the school

Every school district in the state has a staff member responsible for managing complaints related to Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB), and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a resource list to help you locate the compliance coordinator with jurisdiction over your school. OSPI also provides a HIB Toolkit as part of its Safety Center. Among resources provided through the toolkit is a link to a national agency,  StopBullying.gov, which includes lists of suggestions for parents and what-to-do for teenagers.

Washington State’s Office of the Educational Ombudsman (OEO) provides guidance and model Incident Reporting Forms for parents and schools through its website, which includes some articles in both English and Spanish. “Bullying is not something schools and families should take lightly,” OEO states. “Bullying is a repeated negative behavior that takes advantage of a less-powerful person, and sometimes even makes the child who is bullied feel at fault. Hitting, name calling, shunning and shaming are all forms of bullying. So are spreading rumors, gossiping and making threats online.”

The PACER Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center, founded in 2006, has a vast array of resources for families and professionals. Here is a sampling of information from PACER’s Top 10 facts for parents, educators and students with disabilities:

  1. Students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than nondisabled peers.
  2. Bullying affects a student’s ability to learn. For more information read PACER’s Common Views About Bullying. Bullying can lead to:
    1. school avoidance and higher rates of absenteeism
    2. decrease in grades
    3. inability to concentrate
    4. loss of interest in academic achievement
    5. increase in dropout rates
  3. Bullying based on a student’s disability may be considered harassment if it includes:
    1. unwelcome conduct such as verbal abuse, name calling, epithets, or slurs
    2. graphic or written statements
    3. threats
    4. physical assault
    5. other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating
  4. Bullying could be determined to be disability-based harassment and/or a denial of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), protected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
  5. All states have bullying prevention laws, and many school districts also have individual policies that address how to respond to bullying situations. Families can contact a local district to request a written copy of the district policy on bullying.
  6. Adult response is important. Parents, educators, and other adults are important advocates and need to know the best way to talk with children who might be reluctant to talk about what happened, perhaps because the bully threatened to retaliate if called out. PACER has letter templates parents can use to communicate with the school and also articles about how to talk with children about bullying and cyberbullying.
  7. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be adapted to help when bullying becomes a barrier to learning. The PACER center provides these IEP-specific tips:
    1. Identify an adult in the school that the child can trust for help.
    2. Determine how school staff will document and report incidents.
    3. Allow the child to leave class early to avoid hallway incidents.
    4. Hold separate in-services for school staff and classroom peers to help them understand a child’s disability.
    5. Educate peers about school district policies on bullying behavior.
    6. Ensure that school staff regularly remind the student that he or she has a “right to be safe” and that the bullying is not his or her fault.
    7. Request that school staff shadow the student who has been bullied in hallways, classrooms, and playgrounds.
  8. More than 50 percent of bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes. Most students don’t like bullying, but they may not know what to do when it happens. Peer advocacy is a unique approach that empowers students to protect those targeted by bullying.
  9. Self-advocacy can be fostered as a skill that helps the student with a disability talk about needs in a straightforward way. By being involved in what happens in response to the bullying, a student gains a sense of control over their situation. PACER Center’s Student Action Plan helps students define the situation, think about what could be different and write steps for action.
  10. Everyone has a role to play to help students see that no one deserves to be bullied and that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter what. PACER center provides curricula under a program called, The We Will Generation.

Additional information and resources about bullying are available through the Center for Parent Information and Resources, CPIR, which maintains a website called the Parent Center Hub.

A child’s mental well-being may be impacted when bullying, teasing and intimidation become a pattern. If a student or family member needs someone to talk to in an emergent moment of crisis, these phone numbers may be helpful:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

General Teen Talkline: 800-TLC-TEEN

Trevor Project (issues related to sexuality): 866-488-7386

These and other hotlines and text lines are available through Suicide Hotlines.com.

 

The Bullying Epidemic; Stop the Insanity!

I have never seen someone as excited as Sean

He was rambling and carrying on about some kid and how they got in trouble, but didn’t actually say who or why he was in trouble.  I let it go and figured it was just someone he saw on his way home that day.

The following afternoon, Sean comes in again, shouting about this other kid.  I tried to dig in further and he said that this kid went to the principal’s office yesterday for bringing a gun to school.  My mouth dropped, you see my Sean is only 6.  He goes on to say how the gun was brought on campus by a 5 year old (Trevor), who is actually our neighbor and Sean’s best friend.

I knew his parents and had to get to the bottom of this.  Trevor’s father answered the door, shaking his head “You must have heard the news”.  About that time a Network News Crew rolled up and started staging outside their home.  I asked “What’s going on?”, and his father in an extremely frustrated voice stated, “Trevor and Lisa were being bullied by an older kid”.  He decided to take his big brother’s BB gun to school to protect himself and his little sister (Lisa, age 4).  Trevor had been suspended for 2 weeks and will have to go through a disciplinary hearing before he can return to school – if allowed to return at all.   I thought “OMG, at age 6, he may be expelled, and a police record just because he was afraid of a bully!”

Trevor was not the only child to be bullied in the past.  Most adults can remember at some point, in their life either as a child or as an adult when they felt they had been bullied.  The epidemic is so far out of control that even the youngest of children feel they need a weapon to be safe, or in Trevor’s story to keep him and his little sister safe.  Where did this start?  Probably in the first place where like and different minds came together.    Where doesn’t matter at this point, who doesn’t even matter, WHY is the important factor here.

According to a 2012 study at Caldwell College “Bullying carries a lifelong series of emotional scars that permanently affect children into adulthood. Bullying is associated with depression, anxiety, and poor school performance”.  “Results indicated that bullying was strongly associated with increased psychological problems and with poor reading comprehension performance.”

Types of Bullying

Traditional – bigger child picks on smaller or younger child; takes toy or backpack; knocks books onto the floor; blames other for what they have done, etc.

Verbal bullying – name calling, insults, teasing, intimidation, homophobic or racist remarks, or verbal abuse.

Extortion, or Covert and Hidden – give me your lunch money – in return I won’t hurt you or won’t tell on you; lying or spreading rumors; negative facial or physical gestures, menacing or contemptuous looks; intentionally embarrassing someone; mimicking someone’s disability or lack of ability; socially excluding or encouraging others to socially exclude; and damaging someone’s reputation.

Bullying by way of others – the bully knows you care about someone so they torment that person to get to you.

Physical bullying – includes hitting, biting, spitting, kicking, tripping, pinching and pushing.

Cyberbullying – the Internet is now a tried and true tool of the bully. Facebook and chat rooms are overrun with bullies.  It has been widely publicized how many teens have been the subject of cyberbullying, resulting in depression and even suicide.  Cyberbullies tend to write or show inappropriate pictures that are abusive or hurtful; deliberately exclude others; spread nasty rumors or gossip; and are intimidating.

Why do children turn into Bullies?

They themselves have been, or are currently being bullied.

Not all bullying is done by other children. Adults like parents, older siblings, family friends, teachers, coaches, other parents, neighbors, etc. can say or do things to your child that makes them feel like they must reach out and return the act of aggression or intimidation.  This gives him or her the sense that they are in control.

Note: this is not to say that every child who is bullied, abused, or acted against in some way turns out to be a bully or abuser.   On the contrary, most kids if not caught early can tend to withdraw from friends, family and favorite activities.  Conflict is the last thing they want.

The child may not naturally be aggressive, but see others who are and feel they need to be as well to fit in, to keep up, or to be looked at as an equal.

A child may turn to bullying as a way of fighting back against another bully. Once a child who has been bullied has felt the upper hand over his own bully, they feel empowered.  This feeling can be overwhelming if they have never felt it and to feel it again, they in turn become the bully.

Is my child a Bully?

  • Is your child aggressive towards you or your spouse? Is he or she disrespectful to other adults?
  • Does your child get into trouble at school?
  • Do you feel any of your child’s close friends are bullies?
  • Is your child obsessed with how they look, who they are seen with, or being popular in general?
  • Does your child have trouble sleeping? Research by the “University of Michigan found that children with sleep problems related to sleep-disordered breathing were more likely to display bullying tendencies or have other conduct problems than children without the sleep concerns” Cruz, D. Ph.D, (2012).”
  • Do other children tend to leave when your child comes into the room, or onto the playground?
  • Does your child seem to have more money than what you give him or her?
  • Do you see him or her as being more aggressive with their siblings? Or with younger children?

Signs my child is a Victim of Bullying?

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Mood swings or sleep problems
  • Returns to bedwetting
  • Complains of headaches, stomach aches, cries more than normal
  • Doesn’t want to go to school, or afterschool activities or groups that he or she previously enjoyed. The child should not stay home from school, but the problem must be addressed prior to the child returning, or they will not feel safe.
  • If this is happening in a group or activity after school, and you have tried to resolve with no positive result; then help your child find a new group or activity. Don’t let this become the pattern for your child, help them move on.
  • Withdraws from previously enjoyed activities at home
  • Becomes aggressive, fearful, or unreasonable
  • Withdraws into bedroom, not interacting with family
  • Has unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches
  • Comes home with torn clothes, missing items, or overly hungry (as in missing lunch due to having to handing over lunch money every day to a bully)
  • Doesn’t want to walk or ride the bus to school – will only go if you take him or her
  • Begins to show an unusual interest in firearms or other weapons
  • Ask you to teach him or her how to fight
  • Grades begin to fall, or will no longer speak up in class
  • Teacher is worried because they see a change in personality, or grades

As a parent, what can you do?

  • Talk with your child daily.
  • Learn who their friends are.
  • Watch for changes in moods or sleep patterns.
  • Pay attention to how they play with others.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach the school, teacher, coach or other adult if you feel they are the one who is bullying your child.
  • Ask your child what they would like you to do.
  • Don’t teach your 6 year old the techniques of how to “take out” another 6 year old. Do teach them who to contact an adult when it happens, or if they think it may happen; teach them how to advocate for themselves, and why it’s important to stand up for themselves.

It may be the case that your child needs to avoid that individual, group, or situation.

Deal with the incident as it occurs, don’t wait for your 8 year old child to start withdrawing and wetting the bed before you ask what’s wrong; or before you approach the bully or someone who can intervene.

Bullying and harassment is a serious issue that our children are facing, no matter their geographic location or their social status; it’s happening everywhere.  It will not go away on its own. This is a growing epidemic that must be addressed.  Every one of us, as community members, have a responsibility to participate in ending bullying and harassment. We can’t wait for someone else to step in and solve the problem for us.

References:

Bell, L.; Benna, N.; Brandt, A.; Cruz, D. Ph.D.; Duran E.; Fernandez, K.; Gutierrez, J.; Jondoh, L.; and Zaveri, K.  Caldwell College, Undergraduate Research Community.   “School Bullying Hurts: Evidence of Psychological and Academic Challenges among Students with Bullying Histories.” (2012). School Bullying

Myers, W. 2015. Everyday Health. (2015). “7 Signs that your kid’s a bully”.  With medical review by PF Bass III, MD.

National Centre Against Bullying. (2015).

Types of Bullying”.

“What should I do if my child is being bullied?

“Signs your child might be being bullied.”

 

What if Your Child IS the Bully?

Reprinted with permission from PACER

The word “bullying” often conjures up an image of a schoolyard scene, with a big, intimidating student towering over a small, cowering child.

That’s just one face of bullying—and of children who bully. Another face of a bully might be…that of your child. Surprised? Many parents are. Often they have no idea that their child is harassing other children. Yet knowing the facts—and acting to change the situation—is vitally important in making the future safer for your child and all children. Here’s why. Children who bully suffer as much as those they target. They are significantly more likely than others to lead lives marked by school failure, depression, violence, crime, and other problems, according to experts. The message is clear: Bullying is too important to ignore. Could your child be bullying others? Would you know? Once you found out, would you know what to do? Here is some information that can help.

What is bullying? Bullying is different from the routine conflicts of childhood. It is intentional behavior that is meant to hurt and dominate another person. Characterized by an imbalance of power between the child who bullies and the target, bullying can be physical, verbal, emotional (social), or sexual. It includes harassment via e-mail and instant messaging.

Who does it? Children who bully come in a variety of packages—the waif-like second grader, the big sixth-grade boy, the child with a disability, the popular girl, the loner. They can come from any background, race, income level, family situation, gender, or religion. Research has shown that despite their differences children who bully typically have one or more of the following traits.

They may…

be quick to blame others and unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions • lack empathy, compassion, and understanding for others’ feelings

be bullied themselves

have immature social and interpersonal skills

want to be in control

be frustrated and anxious

come from families where parents or siblings bully

find themselves trying to fit in with a peer group that encourages bullying

have parents who are unable to set limits, are inconsistent with discipline, do not provide supervision, or do not take an interest in their child’s life.

If you see these traits in your child or hear from others that your child is bullying, you may want to look into the issue. If your child is bullying, take heart. There’s a lot you can do to help correct the problem. Remember, bullying is a learned behavior—and it can be “unlearned.” By talking with your child and seeking help, you can teach your child more appropriate ways of handling feelings, peer pressure, and conflicts. Here are some ideas.

Help your child to stop bullying

Talk with your child. Find out why he or she is bullying others. You might explore how your child is feeling about himself or herself, ask if he or she is being bullied by someone else, and invite discussion about bullying. Find out if your child’s friends are also bullying. Ask how you can help.

Confirm that your child’s behavior is bullying and not the result of a disability. Sometimes, children with disabilities bully other children. Other times, children with certain behavioral disorders or limited social skills may act in ways that are mistaken for bullying. Whether the behavior is intentional bullying or is due to a disability, it still needs to be addressed. If your child with a disability is bullying, you may want to include bullying prevention goals in his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Teach empathy, respect, and compassion. Children who bully often lack awareness of how others feel. Try to understand your child’s feelings, and help your child appreciate how others feel when they are bullied. Let your child know that everyone has feelings and that feelings matter.

Make your expectations clear. Let your child know that bullying is not okay under any circumstances and that you will not tolerate it. Take immediate action if you learn that he or she is involved in a bullying incident.

Provide clear, consistent consequences for bullying. Be specific about what will happen if the bullying continues. Try to find meaningful consequences, such as loss of privileges or a face-to-face meeting with the child being bullied.

Teach by example. Model nonviolent behavior and encourage cooperative, noncompetitive play. Help your child learn different ways to resolve conflict and deal with feelings such as anger, insecurity, or frustration. Teach and reward appropriate behavior.

Role play. Help your child practice different ways of handling situations. You can take turns playing the part of the child who does the bullying and the one who is bullied. Doing so will help your child understand what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes.

Provide positive feedback. When your child handles conflict well, shows compassion for others, or finds a positive way to deal with feelings, provide praise and recognition. Positive reinforcement goes a long way toward improving behavior. It is more effective than punishment.

Be realistic. It takes time to change behavior. Be patient as your child learns new ways of handling feelings and conflict. Keep your love and support visible.

Seek help. Your child’s doctor, teacher, school principal, school social worker, or a psychologist can help you and your child learn how to understand and deal with bullying behavior. Ask if your school offers a bullying prevention program.

Bullying hurts everyone. Parents can play a significant role in stopping the behavior, and the rewards will be immeasurable for all.

This resource was created by PACER Center’s Bullying Prevention Project, an effort that unites, engages, and educates communities nationwide to prevent bullying through creative, relevant, and interactive resources. Find more resources at www.pacer.org/publications/bullying.asp

Is Your Child Being Bullied In Cyberspace

Reprinted with permission from PACER

If the word “bullying” makes you think of one child picking on another in the schoolyard, it may be time to update your image of this important problem.

While such face-to-face harassment certainly still exists, new ways of bullying have emerged. With the proliferation of cell phones, instant messaging, social networking Web sites such as MySpace, and other technologies, bullying has muscled its way into cyberspace.

Cyberbullying, as this new technological danger is called, may already have happened to your child. According to a study done by wiredsafety.org, 90 percent of middle-school students say they have been the victims of this new form of bullying. Perhaps more sobering, only 15 percent of parents even know what cyberbullying is, according to another study by the group.

Cyberbullying: What it is and how it works

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, hurt, embarrass, humiliate, or intimidate another person. It can be done anonymously, which makes it easy for one child to hurt another and not be held accountable or see the impact of his or her actions. Because this technology reaches a wider audience than just the person who is targeted, its effects can be devastating.

This form of bullying can take place in many ways. For example, some young people have discovered sites where they can create a free Web page—including one intended to bully another child. Embarrassing pictures, private instant messaging (IM) exchanges, and hateful or threatening messages can be posted on these sites. Some young people also post mean comments at legitimate Web sites’ guest books. Others post blogs (short for “Web logs”), information that is instantly published to a Web site. Bullies have found blogging to be a powerful tool when encouraging peers to gang up on another child.

Cyberbullies, like schoolyard bullies, look for targets who are vulnerable, socially isolated, and may not understand social norms. Many children with disabilities have these characteristics, and so they may be especially vulnerable to cyberbullying.

Your 3-step plan to protect your children from cyberbullying

Today’s children are the first generation to experience cyberbullying. Today’s parents are the first to figure out how to respond to the problem.

As you venture into this new territory, here are some tips that you may find helpful, says Julie Hertzog, PACER’s bullying prevention project coordinator.

  1. Raise the topic of cyberbullying with your children.

Many children are afraid to initiate such a conversation because they fear that their access to the Web and cell phones will be eliminated; others are scared to admit that they are being bullied. Open the subject for discussion and let your children know that you want them to have some cyber freedom—but that it needs to be safe.

  1. Set cyber safety rules.

You set safety rules for your children in the physical world. Do the same in cyberspace. Remind your children that they never really know who is on the other end of cyber communication. It could be the person they think it is, or it could be a predator or a bully. With that in mind, two good guidelines are, “Don’t do or say anything online that you wouldn’t do or say in person. Don’t reveal anything that you wouldn’t tell a stranger.”

Specific advice for your children might include:

Never give out your e-mail password, a photo, or any personal data, such as a physical description, phone number, or address. A bully could use that information to harass you in many ways.

Never share too many personal details. For example, if you keep an online diary, someone could use that information to bully or ridicule you.

Never share your IM account password with anyone, even your best friend. That friend may share it with other people, or the friendship may end—and your private messages could suddenly become very public. Also, a cyberbully with your password can sign on, pretend to be you, and behave inappropriately with others to embarrass and humiliate you.

  1. Know what your children are doing online.

Privacy is important, but safety is more important. As a parent, you have a responsibility to know what your children are doing online. Keep your children’s computer in an open spot, such as the family room, where you can supervise Web activity. If your children have an account on a social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook, for example, know how to access it so you can monitor the communications. If you do discover that your children are subjected to cyberbullying, document it by printing the e-mails or Web pages, saving electronic copies, and contacting your children’s school or the police.

Technology offers your children many advantages and benefits—and, occasionally, some risks. The solution is not to remove their access to technology but rather to manage the risks. You can do that by being aware of your children’s cyber activities, learning about new technologies, and adding “cyber parenting” to your list of talents.

Cyberlife by the numbers—a new world for many parents

Cyberbullying

22% of students know someone who has been bullied online.*

19% of students admit to saying something hurtful to others online.*

12% of students have personally become upset by strangers online.*

* Based on a 2005–06 survey of 13,000 students in grades 5-12.

Kids Online

58% of students admit to using the Internet unsafely, inappropriately, or illegally.

55% of students report having given out personal information (e.g. name, age, gender, home address) to someone they have only met online.***

31% of students have a personal Web page. ***

*** Based on a 2005–06 survey of 12,000 students in grades 5 – 12.

Digital Divide

93% of parents say they have established rules for their child’s Internet activity.*

37% of students report being given no rules from their parents on using the Internet.**

95% of parents say they know “some” or “a lot” about where their children go or what their children do on the Internet.*

41% of students do not share where they go or what they do on the Internet with their parents.**

26% of students believe their parents would be concerned if they knew what they did on the Internet.**

* Based on a 2004–05 pre-assessment survey of 1,350 parents.
** Based on a 2005–06 pre-assessment survey of 12,650 students in grades 5-12.
Statistics from the Internet safety organization i-safe and its sister group, Teenangels. Learn more at www.isafe.org and www.teenangels.org.

This resource was created by PACER Center’s Bullying Prevention Project, an effort that unites, engages, and educates communities nationwide to prevent bullying through creative, relevant, and interactive resources. Find more resources at www.pacer.org/publications/bullying.asp

 

Is Your Child Being Bullied In Cyberspace

Reprinted with permission from PACER

If the word “bullying” makes you think of one child picking on another in the schoolyard, it may be time to update your image of this important problem.

While such face-to-face harassment certainly still exists, new ways of bullying have emerged. With the proliferation of cell phones, instant messaging, social networking Web sites such as Facebook, and other technologies, bullying has muscled its way into cyberspace.

Cyberbullying, as this new technological danger is called, may already have happened to your child. According to a study done by wiredsafety.org, 90 percent of middle-school students say they have been the victims of this new form of bullying. Perhaps more sobering, only 15 percent of parents even know what cyberbullying is, according to another study by the group.

Cyberbullying: What it is and how it works

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, hurt, embarrass, humiliate, or intimidate another person. It can be done anonymously, which makes it easy for one child to hurt another and not be held accountable or see the impact of his or her actions. Because this technology reaches a wider audience than just the person who is targeted, its effects can be devastating.

This form of bullying can take place in many ways. For example, some young people have discovered sites where they can create a free Web page—including one intended to bully another child. Embarrassing pictures, private instant messaging (IM) exchanges, and hateful or threatening messages can be posted on these sites. Some young people also post mean comments at legitimate Web sites’ guest books. Others post blogs (short for “Web logs”), information that is instantly published to a Web site. Bullies have found blogging to be a powerful tool when encouraging peers to gang up on another child.

Cyberbullies, like schoolyard bullies, look for targets who are vulnerable, socially isolated, and may not understand social norms. Many children with disabilities have these characteristics, and so they may be especially vulnerable to cyberbullying.

Your 3-step plan to protect your children from cyberbullying

Today’s children are the first generation to experience cyberbullying. Today’s parents are the first to figure out how to respond to the problem.

As you venture into this new territory, here are some tips that you may find helpful, says Julie Hertzog, PACER’s bullying prevention project coordinator.

  1. Raise the topic of cyberbullying with your children.
    Many children are afraid to initiate such a conversation because they fear that their access to the Web and cell phones will be eliminated; others are scared to admit that they are being bullied. Open the subject for discussion and let your children know that you want them to have some cyber freedom—but that it needs to be safe.
  2. Set cyber safety rules.
    You set safety rules for your children in the physical world. Do the same in cyberspace. Remind your children that they never really know who is on the other end of cyber communication. It could be the person they think it is, or it could be a predator or a bully. With that in mind, two good guidelines are, “Don’t do or say anything online that you wouldn’t do or say in person. Don’t reveal anything that you wouldn’t tell a stranger.”Specific advice for your children might include:Never give out your e-mail password, a photo, or any personal data, such as a physical description, phone number, or address. A bully could use that information to harass you in many ways.Never share too many personal details. For example, if you keep an online diary, someone could use that information to bully or ridicule you.Never share your IM account password with anyone, even your best friend. That friend may share it with other people, or the friendship may end—and your private messages could suddenly become very public. Also, a cyberbully with your password can sign on, pretend to be you, and behave inappropriately with others to embarrass and humiliate you.
  3. Know what your children are doing online.
    Privacy is important, but safety is more important. As a parent, you have a responsibility to know what your children are doing online. Keep your children’s computer in an open spot, such as the family room, where you can supervise Web activity. If your children have an account on a social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook, for example, know how to access it so you can monitor the communications. If you do discover that your children are subjected to cyberbullying, document it by printing the e-mails or Web pages, saving electronic copies, and contacting your children’s school or the police.

Technology offers your children many advantages and benefits—and, occasionally, some risks. The solution is not to remove their access to technology but rather to manage the risks. You can do that by being aware of your children’s cyber activities, learning about new technologies, and adding “cyber parenting” to your list of talents.

Cyberlife by the numbers — a new world for many parents

Cyberbullying

  • 22% of students know someone who has been bullied online.*
  • 19% of students admit to saying something hurtful to others online.*
  • 12% of students have personally become upset by strangers online.*

* Based on a 2005–06 survey of 13,000 students in grades 5-12.

Kids Online

  • 58% of students admit to using the Internet unsafely, inappropriately, or illegally.
  • 55% of students report having given out personal information (e.g. name, age, gender, home address) to someone they have only met online.***
  • 31% of students have a personal Web page. ***

*** Based on a 2005–06 survey of 12,000 students in grades 5 – 12.

Digital Divide

  • 93% of parents say they have established rules for their child’s Internet activity.*
  • 37% of students report being given no rules from their parents on using the Internet.**
  • 95% of parents say they know “some” or “a lot” about where their children go or what their children do on the Internet.*
  • 41% of students do not share where they go or what they do on the Internet with their parents.**
  • 26% of students believe their parents would be concerned if they knew what they did on the Internet.**

* Based on a 2004–05 pre-assessment survey of 1,350 parents.
** Based on a 2005–06 pre-assessment survey of 12,650 students in grades 5-12.
Statistics from the Internet safety organization i-safe and its sister group, Teenangels. Learn more at www.isafe.org and www.teenangels.org.

This resource was created by PACER Center’s Bullying Prevention Project, an effort that unites, engages, and educates communities nationwide to prevent bullying through creative, relevant, and interactive resources.