As National Bullying Prevention Month begins next month, parents are reminded that the digital devices their children carry with them can quickly become a tool for causing harm to others – or an open door for others to cause hurtful damage to them.
A recent news report out of Nashville, Tennessee warns that a new smartphone app can serve as a platform for cyberbullying. The app is called After School, and it leverages a convoluted series of sign-up verifications and other social media-based processes that ultimately enable children to post anonymous comments, threats and other harmful communications accessible by a select “community” of like-minded “friends.” While parents can download the app, they cannot access the conversations themselves, making it impossible for parents to monitor their own children’s use of the program.
According to Dr. Amy Smith, Director of Educational Programs at HEAR, the program presents tremendous challenges for parents. “Sure enough – I downloaded the app, noticed that 234 students from my local high school use it, but I could not access anything they were saying. You have to verify through Facebook that you are a student at the school.”
This latest threat reminds us of the critical role parents can – and should – play in reducing bullying in their schools and in their communities. In the always-connected world our children inhabit, cyberbullying – via texts, social media or even plain old e-mail – has become the latest battlefront. How do we as parents ensure that our children are protected from these assaults, and how can we be sure that our own children aren’t participating in or even perpetrating this destructive behavior themselves?
There are no easy answers, and certainly no ironclad assurances to be made. But the old proverb “Charity begins at home” comes to mind. Parents would do well to educate themselves about the latest research and other bullying prevention resources available to them, and can point their children to age-appropriate resources they can access to learn what to do if they encounter bullying – in person or online.