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Back-to-School Resources for Parents and Guardians: How to Safeguard Kids from Cyberbullying

Back-to-School Resources for Parents and Guardians:  How to Safeguard Kids from Cyberbullying

It’s every parent’s nightmare: their child is being victimized by bullies at school. And, in recent years, it’s become even more frightening as cyberbullies have gained the ability to continually harass innocent children day and night — not only at school, but also in the former sanctuary of their own homes.

Now, with students returning to classrooms and playgrounds across Michigan, we thought it would be helpful to discuss this ongoing and oftentimes disturbing issue facing parents and their kids.

No one can ever forget the traumatizing experience of being bullied… or the helpless feeling of being unable to protect one’s child from tormentors at school. In the past, children were at least granted temporary respite from attacks when the school day ended. Not anymore. The prevalence of social media has enabled bullying to become a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week pastime for some malicious individuals. Kids who find themselves being bullied today have virtually no way to escape. And parents can feel totally helpless.

Indeed, a study by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital revealed parents are more concerned about cyberbullying than just about any other issue facing their children. If you share that anxiety, MetroParent magazine’s advice on cyberbullying may be helpful to you. The publication also outlines state laws that could make a difference.

In 2005, Michigan established groundbreaking legislation (commonly called “Matt’s Safe School Law,” named for the late student whose hazing experience inspired it) designed to help protect kids from being bullied in person. And more recently, the state has taken additional steps to write legislation specifically prohibiting cyberbullying, enacting stringent penalties for those convicted of this crime.

Today, there are numerous resources where parents can get details on how these laws work, and ways to help kids who are being victimized by cyberbullies. Here are a few, along with descriptions of the information and services provided to parents seeking to protect their children.

The State of Michigan’s “OK2SAY” Program

Michigan’s OK2SAY student safety program offers information on the state’s anti-bullying efforts, with a collection of resources on bullying, cyberbullying, and other criminal activities students may encounter in their daily lives. This program hosts a website where students can submit confidential tips about harmful or criminal actions directed at schools or individual students.

The U.S. Government’s “STOPBULLYING.GOV” Website

This federal program provides specific insights for children, teens, and adults on ways to address and prevent bullying. It also provides detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to effectively report cyberbullying to law enforcement authorities. Because this is a national effort, you can find information on cyberbullying laws in all 50 states catalogued here. So if, for example, you are a Michigan grandparent whose grandchildren in Florida are being cyberbullied, you might find this site particularly useful.

The Michigan Alliance for Families

This organization, which supports parents of children with disabilities, has assembled numerous resources to help confront bullying, including risk factors to consider, effective ways to respond to bullies (including teachers who bully), and how to use Section 504 or Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to mitigate potential bullying and cyberbullying experiences.

More Resources to Check Out …

There are a number of other resources to utilize if you need assistance with cyberbullying. The National PTA has parental advice on the topic, in addition to a vast archive of information on digital safety. Recognizing that online life is pervasive, and that social media is here to stay, ConnectSafely offers a detailed parent guide to help kids navigate the internet safely.  StompOutBullying, a national nonprofit combating child neglect and violence, has designed a tip sheet that includes suggestions for parents and other adults to use when confronting cyberbullying incidents. They also have a help/chat line staffed by trained volunteers.

… And a Helpful Last Recourse if All Else Fails

If bullying or cyberbullying ever become too severe to deal with on your own, and your child is suffering mentally or physically, there are other steps you can take.  First gather any evidence of online bullying (take screen shots, save text messages, print emails, assemble anything relevant to your situation).  Next, report the issue to social media and/or internet providers where the bullying has taken place via their established anti-abuse resources.  Also inform school officials (if the cyberbullying involves other students).  And finally contact local law enforcement to report this crime to them by making an official police report.