For the month of October, during National Bullying Prevention Month, we are posting interviews we conducted with some of the most influential people in the cyberbullying prevention space. The next in the series involves Tom Jacobs, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Pro Tem/Commissioner (Arizona) (1985 to 2008) and founder of askthejudge.info.
uKK: What is the nature of your expertise on cyberbullying?
TJ: As an extension to my research and writing on juvenile and family issues since 1978, I ventured into digital communications in 2007. The increase in the number of teens being disciplined at school and prosecuted for their acts led to the publication of “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” in 2010. I have since followed the evolution of cyberbullying and its effects on our youth.
uKK: What do you believe is the number one thing that can be done to draw attention to and prevent this trend?
TJ: It’s a combination of awareness and education about consequences. All adults that work with our kids need to understand the widespread use of all things cyber and the common thread that runs throughout digital communications: kids don’t think far enough into their future to fully understand the concept of consequences, to themselves, their families and the victim’s family. Once we can impress upon teenagers the seriousness of their online posts and the damage that bullying (traditional and cyber) brings about, the sooner we can reduce this phenomenon.
uKK: What online trends do you believe contribute to this trend, and how should those issues be addressed?
TJ: There are too many online trends to keep up with. Kids catch on to new social media sites and use them quicker than their parents can discover them. Kik, Ask.fm and Voxer are recent examples of sites used to bully others. Parents may be aware of their child’s Facebook or Twitter accounts and have their passwords to monitor their activities, but some teens open new accounts unbeknownst to their parents.
Recent trends that have affected many young lives include videotaping teens at parties in embarrassing situations or being sexually assaulted. Then the video is posted on YouTube, goes viral and can lead to devastating consequences including suicide. Recent cases include Rebecca Sedwick (age 12), Rehtaeh Parsons (age 17) and Carolina Picchio (age 14).
uKK: What steps can parents take to educate themselves and become better informed about potential incidents?
TJ: Build a trusting relationship with their kids. Assure them from age 10 on that if they receive a cruel or bullying message, their cell phone or computer won’t be taken away from them as punishment. This is a teen’s greatest fear. The kids have to understand that they can always go to their parents when this happens. Too many kids who end their lives do so as a last resort – it’s the only way to end their pain and fear. Many keep the bullying to themselves, internalize it and act accordingly. Bullycide is preventable once the teen accepts the fact that they are not alone, that their parents & others can help them through it.
Parents need to understand the dangers of the Internet, discuss it with their kids and monitor their use of all things digital.
uKK: What is the best thing for a parent to do when finding out their child has been cyberbullied?
TJ: There are many websites with great tips for parents about this. www.cyberbullying.us is one that I use regularly due to their current research and statistics.
Parents should discuss exactly what’s happened with their child. Reassure them that they will not be disciplined or lose their devices because of what someone else has done. They should make copies of all messages, speak with the bully’s parents if possible, talk with the school officials and contact the police. This isn’t a problem that goes away on its own, so parents shouldn’t ignore it as a one-time incident.
uKK: What are some of the best resources parents can turn to in these situations?
uKK: What is the best thing for a parent to do when finding out their child has cyberbullied someone else?
TJ: Discuss what happened with their son or daughter and why they chose to hide behind a computer or phone to message their target. Discuss alternate ways to handle the situation and how to defuse the current relationship. Check one of the above sites for helpful suggestions in handling this.
uKK: What is the best thing for a child/teenager to do if he has been cyberbullied?
TJ: Tell your parents or another trusted adult. Don’t keep it to yourself – you’re not the only person being bullied. Others who can help include a friend’s parent, teacher or counselor at school, the school’s resource officer, clergy person, or close relative.
uKK: Any additional information you would like to provide?
TJ: Bullying and cyberbullying is not something that requires a one-time talk with your kids. Like the “birds and the bees” the discussion has to be ongoing about safe communications. Openness and trust are the keys. Netiquette should be stressed with a dose of tolerance and compassion for all.
Many parents are still in the dark about cyberbullying. Become informed with our eBook: “10 Essential Things Every Parent Should Know about Cyberbullying.” Download your free copy today!