The rapid evolution of technology has affected the ways in which people and business communicate with each other in a very dramatic way –sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. The internet has become a forum that supports bullying and intimidation, fueling a worldwide growth of cyber liability. Right now the hot-button issue for parents is the risk of cyberbullying –both for parents of potential victims, as well as for parents of an accused cyberbully.
What in the world is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the same as the more familiar form of bullying, only that it that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. Because cyberbullying can happen in the 24/7 world of social media, victims often feel that they have nowhere to hide –even in the safety of their own home. Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online –25% of them have had it happen more than once. 1 The end result of a Cyberbullying case can result in the loss of your lifetime savings, your house or other prized possessions. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that most cyberbullying cases don’t make it to a criminal level –some bullying victims are tired of hiding in the depths of darkness and despair, which can lead to a tragic results such as suicide –or Bullycide. The mere fact that this is such a phenomenon that a portmanteau word has been created to define this tragedy is absolutely appalling.
What can you do to protect your family?
Every homeowners policy is going to offer liability coverage at some level for “bodily injury or property damage” –but that definition does not include intangible damages for things like emotional distress, anxiety and mental injury –which are often the result of cyberbullying. This is not to mention the other violations your teen may encounter online –which my friend Alan McNaron covers beautifully in Personal Injury Protection from Social Media. In order to have any sort of coverage from a claim resulting from one of these kinds of situations a homeowners policy must have an endorsement that adds “personal injury” liability protection, which picks up the acts of libel, slander and defamation. But you still need to be careful –just because you have the coverage doesn’t mean you’re 100% protected! The only problem with this coverage will be with the exclusions, and there are likely to be more than one of them. It is not unusual to see an exclusion for “personal injury” if the insured (which also includes your kids) knew what they were doing was wrong or inaccurate. When you deal with a child’s access to the internet, compiled with the given errors in judgment, the risk for personal injury is certainly much greater –which also increases parents chances of being held liable.
The best defense against any type of exposure to this risk is to avoid it completely –always know what your children are doing online!
As a parent, you’ll likely want to allow your children to use technology for communications, learning and more –however you’re also going to want to be sure that they do so safely and securely. It is essential to establish household rules about technology use, as well as to monitor your child’s actions online.
Tips for establishing rules about proper use of technology:
- Establish rules about appropriate use of computers, cell phones, and other technology. For example, be clear about what sites they can visit and what they are permitted to do when they’re online. Show them how to be safe online.
- Help them be smart about what they post or say. Tell them not to share anything that could hurt or embarrass themselves or others. Once something is posted, it is out of their control whether someone else will forward it.
- Encourage kids to think about who they want to see the information and pictures they post online. Should complete strangers see it? Real friends only? Friends of friends? Think about how people who aren’t friends could use it.
- Educate their children about the potential dangers and lasting nature of a digital message
- Tell kids to keep their passwords safe and not share them with friends. Sharing passwords can compromise their control over their online identities and activities
- Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, is being cyberbullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem they are having
Tips for monitoring online activity:
- Know the sites your kids visit and their online activities.
- Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs are one option for monitoring your child’s online behavior, but do not rely solely on these tools.
- Have a sense of what they do online and in texts. Learn about the sites they like. Try out the devices they use.
- Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so. (92% of parents are Facebook friends with their children) 2
- Ask for their passwords, but tell them you’ll only use them in case of emergency. (72% of parents have their child’s Facebook password) 2
All too often parents only learn about the actions of their children after the fact…once the legal proceedings begin.
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1. 11 Facts about Cyberbullying
2. Most Parents Monitor Kids on Facebook and Have their Password
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net