Information for Parents

Being a parent with a child plugged into our ever-increasing technological world can be a challenge.

Although many of the strategies for keeping your children safe from online predators and cyberbullying remain the same as they were when computers first became a part of our daily lives, advances in technology have changed the way all of us receive and disseminate information.

For example, if your child has a cellular phone, it is likely connected to the Internet, and may have a text messaging plan. This means that most kids, especially teenagers, are literally walking around with computers in their pockets, purses, and knapsacks. Even if your child doesn’t own one, chances are high that they have a friend who does.

Kids are now dealing with cyberbullying and electronic harassment in ways that many parents cannot imagine, and that can be overwhelming, even harmful, to your child. Massachusetts state law requires that every child’s school have a bullying and cyberbullying plan, and your child’s principal should be the first person to which you report any instances of bullying.

If you believe your child is being bullied online, it is helpful to document any and all contact that the bully or bullies make with your child. It is also helpful to print out screen shots, emails, or Instant Message exchanges, or save images on your computer or on a flash drive to keep as evidence of online bullying or harassment. To report online incidents that rise to the level of a criminal offense, contact your local police department.

 To ask a question, or for more information about cyberbullying or Internet safety, you can email the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office at cybersafe@state.ma.us.

Connect Safely is a website that provides many helpful tips to parents and their children regarding cyberbullying, sexting, video sharing, Facebook, and many other helpful tips that will help parents familiarize yourselves with the different technologies your children are using, and provide you with the tools to help your child.

It is very important for you as a parent to establish rules for your child’s Internet use. Consider the use of an Internet safety pledge or contract to set the rules your child must adhere to while online. Be mindful of your child’s Internet use and make sure that there is an open line of communication with your children about their online activities.

General Internet Safety Tips

  • Play an active role in your child’s online activities. Try to make the Internet a fun, family learning activity.
  • Don’t put an Internet-ready computer in your child’s bedroom. Keep the computer in an open, public location in your house.
  • Set a time limit for your child’s Internet use.
  • Be aware of the services and sites your child uses. If you don’t know how to utilize the services then have your child show you. Look for a family-friendly online service provider.
  • Be very careful about posting information about your child or your family online.
  • Establish clear guidelines for your child’s Internet use. Teach your children that there will be consequences for their actions. Consider using a pledge or contract to make the rules clear and enforceable.
  • Don’t be scared or overwhelmed by technology! You can learn the technology you need to protect your child online. The resources you need are on these pages or the links to these pages. Use them to empower yourself and protect your family.
  • Don’t allow your child to post personal identifying information on the Internet (Full name, address, telephone umber, etc.).
  • Tell your child that you love them and that they can turn to you if they have questions or need help with tough times they encounter. If you don’t, someone else that they meet online will, and the consequences could be tragic.
  • Remember that children are curious and sometimes get themselves in situations they did not mean to get into. Remember also that if a child is approached by an adult predator, it is not the child’s fault. The child may feel a number of emotions including guilt, disappointment, and shame, and will likely have trouble talking to you.

Cyberbullying Tips for Your Children

(Re-posted from the website Connect Safely)

Don’t respond. If someone bullies you, remember that your reaction is usually exactly what the bully wants. It gives him or her power over you. Who wants to empower a bully?

Don’t retaliate. Getting back at the bully turns you into one and reinforces the bully’s behavior. Help avoid a whole cycle of aggression.

Save the evidence. The only good news about digital bullying is that the harassing messages can usually be captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help. You need to do this even if it’s minor stuff, in case things escalate.

Talk to a trusted adult. You deserve backup. It’s always good to involve a parent but – if you can’t – a school counselor usually knows how to help. Sometimes both are needed. If you’re really nervous about saying something, see if there’s a way to report the incident anonymously at school.

Block the bully. If the harassment’s coming in the form of instant messages, texts, or profile comments, do yourself a favor: Use preferences or privacy tools to block the person. If it’s in chat, leave the “room.”

Be civil. Even if you don’t like someone, it’s a good idea to be decent and not sink to the other person’s level. Also, research shows that gossiping about and trash talking others increases your risk of being bullied. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Don’t be a bully. How would you feel if someone harassed you? You know the old saying about walking a mile in someone’s shoes; even a few seconds of thinking about how another person might feel can put a big damper on aggression. That’s needed in this world.

Be a friend, not a bystander. Watching or forwarding mean messages empowers bullies and hurts victims even more. If you can, tell bullies to stop or let them know harassment makes people look stupid and mean. It’s time to let bullies know their behavior is unacceptable – cruel abuse of fellow human beings. If you can’t stop the bully, at least try to help the victim and report the behavior.

Some Potential Online Risks

Being aware of potential risks will make it easier for parents to talk to their children about potentially dangerous scenarios, and helps them guard against victimization or becoming victimizers themselves.

  • Your child meets with a stranger he or she met online.
  • You, your child, his/or he friends or classmates, or your family are put in danger because your child gives out personal information while communicating with strangers, or posts it on the Internet.
  • Your child engages in or is the object of rude, threatening, or harassing online conduct.
  • Your child receives, or distributes, illegal or offensive files.
  • Your child receives email messages containing illicit or illegal materials or links to web sites designed to capture personal information without the visitor’s knowledge.
  • Your child views inappropriate web sites, or receives inappropriate email or chat communications from others.
  • An Internet user posts false personal information about your child online. Or, your child posts the personal identifying information of another person with the intent to harass.
  • You or your child’s computer is hacked, and the intruder steals information that can identify your or your family or be used to commit identity theft.

Signs Your Child May Be At Risk

  • Your child is using an account that belongs to someone else.
  • Your child withdraws from family, friends, or favorite activities, is depressed, or attempts to hurt himself or herself.
  • Your child is spending lot of time online, especially at night.
  • Your child is turning off the monitor or minimizing the screen quickly when someone enters the room.
  • You find pornography on your child’s computer.
  • Your child has a large cell phone bill.
  • Your child suddenly has many new friends.
  • Your child shows signs that they are confused about their sexuality.
  • Your child engages in behavior designed to deceive you about what they are doing online.
  • Your child receives packages, mail, gifts, or phone calls from people you don’t know.
  • Your child suddenly has unaccounted for amounts of money.

Steps to Take if Your Child is Unlawfully Contacted

If you are concerned about an immediate threat to someone you know, or that your child has received files, communications, or materials that are offensive and could be illegal, take the following steps:

  1. If you are alarmed about a potentially illegal incident currently occurring, don’t turn the computer off. This may destroy the only evidence leading law enforcement to a potential suspect. Turn off the monitor or close the laptop lid.
  2. Contact the police and your Internet Service Provider to report the abuse. If you have an emergency, dial 911. Keep everyone away from the computer until you have spoken with an authority that has given you guidance on how to proceed.
  3. If there is no immediate response, save or print the email, chat or file.
  4. If you would like to report online child exploitation, file a Cybertip with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

You can report the incident to the Suffolk District Attorney’s office or to any of the law enforcement contacts below:

  • Boston Police Department Crimes Against Children Unit: (617) 343 – 6183
  • Boston Police Main Line: (617) 343 – 4200
  • Revere Police Department: (781) 284 – 1212
  • Chelsea Police Department: (617) 446 – 4855
  • Winthrop Police Department: (617) 539 – 5806
  • Massachusetts State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force: (413) 499 – 1112, Extension 307
  • Nationwide Contacts for State ICAC Task Forces
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation Boston Field Office: (617) 742 – 5533